What Is an Uncirculated Coin? Guide to Condition and Value
Uncirculated coins (sometimes called "UNC" or "Unc.") are coins that have not been used in circulation. In other words, they have not been used as money—and as a result are in mint state condition.
There is still some degree of confusion about the way “uncirculated” is used. Below we will discuss all the possible uses for the term. This will help you avoid being misled about any particular uncirculated coin you are interested in buying.
Uncirculated American Gold Eagle coins are popular with both bullion investors and coin collectors.
The Ambiguous Usages of "Uncirculated"
The term uncirculated usually describes the grade of the coin—i.e. mint condition. On the Sheldon scale used to grade coins, the numerical grades between 60 and 70 are considered uncirculated. But the term can also be descriptive of the coin's use as a collectible rather than money.
Coins that are uncirculated are still legal tender and can be used as money if you choose, but that's not their intention. An uncirculated coin will normally be sold directly to the public by a mint. This is in contrast to how circulating coins make to the public: they are distributed to banks first.
Of course, coins that have circulated can still be collectible, especially if they are very old. The difference is that they will be worn from circulation. This means the design elements of circulated coins will be missing some details. By definition, an uncirculated coin shows virtually no signs of wear.
Note that various grading services and auction houses use "uncirculated" to mean coins that grade in mint state.
Somewhat confusingly, you may also see "uncirculated" used as an adjective to distinguish a modern coin from its collectible proof counterpart. This is often done with American Silver Eagle coins. The normal bullion version of the Silver Eagle is marketed as uncirculated in contrast to the Silver Eagle Proof. But, technically, all Silver Eagle coins are uncirculated!
Even though all proof coins are uncirculated by definition, this is not how they are marketed.
Uncirculated Should Literally Mean Mint State
The avoid all of this ambiguity, we should use the term "uncirculated" to describe the condition of a coin. It is synonymous with the coin grading term "mint state."
Much like other coin collecting adjectives such as "Gem coin" and "BU coin," uncirculated has become overused. It is employed by some unscrupulous sellers who will refer to coins that are clearly of a medium grade, or coins that have been improperly cleaned.
Follow the links below to learn more about different types of coins that may be a source of confusion.
Read more about numismatics and coin collecting from the authors at Gainesville Coins:
Everett has been the head content writer and market analyst at Gainesville Coins since 2013. He has a background in History and is deeply interested in how gold and silver have historically fit into the financial system.
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