Although the process of burnishing has been around since the 18th century, in the world of numismatics, this process is typically associated with the US Mint and with the Burnished American Eagle coins. These coins provide a different aesthetic to proof coins and uncirculated coins, giving collectors something else to get excited about. Many investors also believe that the act of burnishing itself improves the longevity of a coin, keeping the design immaculate for longer.
Before a coin is struck and before the finish is applied, the burnishing process begins. At this point, the coin is a simple blank disk, known as a “planchet”. Methods differ from mint to mint, but in the case of the US Mint, the burnishing process occurs in a large spinning drum.
The planchets are placed into this drum along with an abrasive substance — typically sand or small metal balls. As the drum spins and the abrasive substance comes into contact with the planchets, their surface is polished and a matte-finish is applied. From here, a handler carefully removes the coins one by one. They wear gloves to avoid transferring any dirt or oils onto the blanks, eliminating potential imperfections.
While proof and uncirculated coins tend to have a bright luster, burnished coins have a matte-finish, and are less reflective as a result. Many investors say that these coins are very similar to standard bullion coins, but the differences are definitely there if you know what to look for.
Burnished coins are very smooth to the touch and often display a lot of detail. As they are handled with great care, a burnished coin that has come direct from the mint should have few bag marks and other imperfections, although such imperfections tend to be more common in burnished coins than they are in proof coins.
Burnishing has been used on silver, gold and platinum coins, and all burnished coins produced by the US Mint come encased in a protective slip and supplied with a Certificate of Authenticity. The process of burnishing can also be used to refurbish and alter coins, which is usually frowned upon.
The most popular burnished coin currently on the market is the Burnished Silver Eagle, produced by the US Mint. This was the first modern burnished coin and was created as a special edition coin, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the American Eagle coin series. The Burnished Silver Eagle was first minted in 2006 and has been minted in most years since then, although no burnished coins were produced in 2009 or 2010, years in which the US Mint focused their attentions on meeting the increased demand for bullion coins.
The Burnished Gold Eagle was also first minted in 2006 and continues to be produced to this day, while the Burnished Platinum Eagle was only minted for two years, before being discontinued in 2008. In fact, based on the low mintage numbers, and the fact that they will probably never be minted again, the Burnished Platinum Eagles are considered to be highly collective, with a premium that should only increase as the years progress.
The US Mint does not use the term “burnished” and refers to these coins simply as “uncirculated”. It was the numismatic community that coined this term, based on the burnishing process that these coins were put through.
All of these coins carry the “W” mint mark, which stands for “West Point”. Erected in 1937 and initially used as a bullion storage facility, the West Point mint began producing coins as part of the US Mint in the 1980s. This is where all US Mint “burnished coins” are produced, and indeed where all proof and uncirculated American Eagle coins are produced.
Burnished coins offer a unique take on a classic design, and they are particularly sought-after by fans of the American Eagle series, and indeed by all serious coin collectors. These coins are unique and deserve to be placed in a category of their own alongside proof and uncirculated coins.
What’s more, if many investors are to be believed and the burnishing process does prolong the life of a coin’s design, then burnished coins could remain in mint condition for longer, which means that their value could increase considerably in the future. The fact that these coins are produced in limited numbers also increases their appeal, as does the fact that they are often available for a lot less than proof coins.