BU (Brilliant Uncirculated) / Mint State

The terms “Mint State” (MS), “Uncirculated” (Unc.), and “Brilliant Uncirculated” (BU) are all used to describe the condition of a coin that has not entered circulation. These coins are minted to a higher standard than circulated coins, created with investors and collectors in mind. With the vast majority of investors now purchasing coins online — where they are unable to examine the piece in great detail — understanding what these terms mean is crucial.

The Sheldon Coin Grading Scale

Created by William Herbert Sheldon, JR. the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale, or simply the Sheldon Scale, is a grading system that gives all coins a number between 1 and 70, with 1 being the lowest quality and 70 being the highest. This scale was first used in 1949 and the grading system that we use today was based on it, with only a few minor changes made.

Uncirculated And Mint State

The term “uncirculated” is used simply as a way of distinguishing coins that were meant for circulation from those that were not. It is not an indictor that the coin is flawless, far from it. In fact, coins that have multiple bag marks (nicks and scratches from where one coin has come into contact with many others in a mint bag) and other blemishes can still be listed as “uncirculated” if they are not meant for circulation.

This is where the Sheldon Scale comes in. Coins that are graded between 60 and 70 on this scale are preceded by the initials MS, which stands for “Mint State”. All coins are uncirculated and should therefore show no signs of wear.

These are official grades and show that a coin has been graded by a professional, often one of the leading grading companies. These include ANACS, NGC and PCGS, each with their own standards and levels of consistency.

  •         Uncirculated MS-60: This grade generally refers to uncirculated coins that have a considerable number of blemishes, usually in the form of bag marks. Coins with this grade may also have a poor strike and many scuff-marks, and their low quality is visible to the naked eye.
  •         Uncirculated MS-61: Coins with this grade tend to have a poor luster, as well as a number of marks and other flaws.
  •         Uncirculated MS-62: This denotes a coin that has many issues, albeit not as many as coins with the “MS-60” or “MS-61” grade. These include occasional large scuff-marks and noticeable nicks.
  •         Select Uncirculated MS-63: These coins may look acceptable to the naked eye, but they are still considered to be low quality, with a poor luster, many bag marks, scuff-marks and other unfavorable features.
  •         Choice Uncirculated MS-64: A good luster and a decent strike, these coins may have one or two noticeable marks, scuffs and other defects.
  •         Gem Uncirculated MS-65: A maximum of two large marks may be present, and scuff-marks may also be visible, but the overall appeal is above acceptable.
  •         Gem Uncirculated MS-66: The mint luster is there in full and the strike is above average, but there may be as many as two noticeable scuff-marks.
  •         Superb Gem Uncirculated MS-67: This grade denotes a high quality strike and the original luster, but as many as 4 small contact marks may be present, as well as 1 larger and more noticeable mark.
  •         Superb Gem Uncirculated MS-68: Exceptional to the naked eye, this coin may display as many as 4 small flaws, with no scuff-marks.
  •         Superb Gem Uncirculated MS-69: Two small non-detracting flaws may be present, but the luster should be there in full and the strike, as well as the eye appeal, should be exceptional.
  •         Perfect Uncirculated MS-70: These coins should be flawless. This is not an easy grade to achieve as any flaws, irrespective of how minor they are, will disqualify them.

Brilliant Uncirculated

Grading companies may attach different grades to the same coin, even though they are all following the same system. This complicates matters, and to complicate them either further, you have to consider that not all coins are professionally graded.

When a coin is not of a high enough value to warrant an official grading, the dealer will often attach the terms “Uncirculated” (Unc.), or “Brilliant Uncirculated” (BU). In the case of the former, it means the coin has no signs of wear, but may have a number of visible marks and blemishes. In the case of the latter, the dealer is suggesting that this coin is of high quality, with all of the original mint luster, as well as very few blemishes and minimal discoloration.

“Brilliant Uncirculated” is also known as “Mint Condition” or “Mint State”.