Differences Between Circulated and Uncirculated Coins
By | May 29, 2017
At first blush, it might seem as though coins are either circulated or not. But things are often not as simple as they seem, and that’s especially true when it comes to coin collecting. For example, there are 11 grades of “Uncirculated” coins alone! Here’s a quick look at some of the differences.
What Are “Uncirculated” Coins?
These are the rock stars of coin collecting. They are regular coins made to circulate in commerce, but that barely made it out the door. They are graded as “Mint State” (MS) on the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale and are accompanied by a number indicating their degree of perfection when viewed under magnification.
How Are Coins Graded?
Uncirculated Coin Grading
The Sheldon Scale assigns an alpha-numeric code to a coin based on its condition. For uncirculated coins, that scale ranges from MS60 to MS70. The rating takes several things into account including how much of the original “mint luster” remains and if it shows any signs of handling. For older coins, it also makes allowances for production methods in use at the time. The grading is done under 5x magnification and can be certified by experts at one of several coin grading services. There are eleven grades that go into great detail about the coin’s condition. For instance:
MS60 coins will show no signs of wear, but the mint luster can be dull and there may be several noticeable scuff marks, scratches, or nicks picked up in handling.
MS65 is the middle grade. The coin has an attractive, overall luster, but may have a few small marks or hairlines or light scuff marks on the highest points of the coin.
MS70 is the ultimate. They have no traces of wear, handling, or scuffs under magnification. MS70 coins are nearly impossible to find in older coins due to aging and less precise manufacturing processes.
Circulated Coin Grading
Circulated coins are those that have entered commercial use, no matter how little, or have other damage. As you might imagine, these range from almost perfect to so worn down they’re barely distinguishable as coins. They’re also graded on the Sheldon Scale and carry numbers from 1-55.
The most heavily worn coins are rated from Poor (PO1) to Choice Good (G6).
Very Good (VG8 and VG10) coins are still heavily worn, although some detail is clear and most of the letters in the word Liberty are visible. These are the grades you’ll see in bags of “Junk Silver,” for example and are usually collected only for their bullion value or as souvenirs.
Fine (F12, F15) have sharp lettering and most detail is visible, although still well worn.
Very Fine (VF20 – VF35) coins show considerate to moderate wear, but the major features are still sharp.
Extremely Fine (EF40 &45) have full, sharp details with slight wear on the higher points of the coin. Most serious collectors start to become interested at this point, depending on the coin’s rarity.
The best of the circulated grades are called About Uncirculated (AU50, 55, & 58) and have only minimal traces of wear and half or more of the original mint luster remaining and are very popular with collectors.
How to Choose Between Circulated and Uncirculated Coins
Usually, the older the coin, the harder it is to find in Mint State, although there are exceptions. Modern coins are typically only collected in uncirculated condition, though. But rarer uncirculated coins can be fabulously expensive, so if you’re on a limited budget, you might want to look at About Uncirculated, or even Extremely Fine coins to start a collection and upgrade as you can.
Grading can make a huge price difference. For instance, an 1884-S Morgan Dollar sells for around $50 at EF40, but shoots up to over $5,000 at MS60 and a whopping $250,000 for MS65. That’s why it’s important to insist on an accredited grading service on larger purchases and do your homework on current market prices.
Whether you’re a seasoned collector or just getting started, The Great American Coin Company® has a wide selection of coins and banknotes available online. We keep adding items as they become available, so be sure to visit us frequently. And while you’re there, be sure to visit our blog for interesting and timely articles about coins, currency and precious metals.