What is Brilliant Uncirculated?
Brilliant Uncirculated may seem self explanatory, but it’s definition is surprisingly murky. At one time this meant that a coin still had the original luster from the mint and the coin was undamaged. However, BU is often used with a much broader definition. As the name implies, an uncirculated coin has not been used for commerce. The US Mint will often issue separate ‘Uncirculated’ coins specifically for collectors. For example, the American Silver Eagles are issued either as bullion coins or ‘Uncirculated’ coins for collectors. The ‘brilliant’ part of the title is not as exciting as you might think. Yes, the coin should appear shiny and new, but brilliant uncirculated is the lowest grade of uncirculated coins.
Why is it the lowest grade?
Even though a coin qualifies as Brilliant Uncirculated that doesn’t mean that it is in perfect condition. Why not? Coins are often distributed and stored in large bags. As the bags are moved around the coins hit one another. When lots of coins are banging into one another in a bag they end up with ‘bag marks’ or scratches. Basically, a coin can be BU and still be covered in scratches and gouges.
Even though the coin has some scratches and gouges it shouldn’t have any signs of use, or wear. What does that mean? As you handle a coin with your fingers you will gradually rub off the fine details of the coin. A Morgan silver dollar has small lines in the hair that will rub off and a silver American Eagle may lose some folds in lady liberty’s gown. If you see signs that a coin’s details or date have rubbed off–even if it appears shiny–the coin is not in BU condition.
What is better than Brilliant Uncirculated condition?
BU condition usually refers to a Mint State 60 grade or higher on the Sheldon Scale. Coin grading is done on a scale up to 70, so any coin from MS-60 to MS-70 is in BU condition. The higher the number the better the coin’s condition. If a coin has been graded, it will be kept in a protective rectangular ‘slab’ which will verify it’s condition. There are a couple other terms to look out for: ‘Choice BU’ refers to coins in MS63-MS64; ‘Gem BU’ refers to coins graded MS65 or higher.
How can I care for my BU coins?
To make sure a coin remains in BU condition you should always handle the coin with gloves. If you don’t, the oils on your skin can damage the coin’s surface. Although some BU coins will come in a flip–or a little plastic pouch–most will be delivered in an acrylic capsule to protect the coin from damage.
Should I buy BU coins?
There are two big advantages to buying Brilliant Uncirculated condition. First, the coins still have all the fine details. If you’re someone who likes to look at and appreciate the design elements of the coins you collect you’ll appreciate having the coins with all the details intact. Secondly, coin grade is a factor when someone looks at the investment value of coins. Basically, even though the mintage numbers of a coin may be high a relatively small number of coins are likely to be in Brilliant Uncirculated condition. That makes your coin a little more rare than the next one.