Circulated vs. Uncirculated Coins

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Contributor, Benzinga
November 2, 2023

Are you interested in collecting coins? Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned collector, it is important to understand the differences between circulated and uncirculated coins. Uncirculated coins are usually the favorite of collectors, but it mostly comes down to preference. The basic distinction is that circulated coins have been in general circulation and used as currency by the general public, and uncirculated coins haven't.

However, there is no master list of all circulated and uncirculated coins and no serial number on each coin to check. This is why collectors can only determine whether they have been circulated by how they look. So how are they identified and what else do collectors need to know about the conditions of coins? Keep reading to find out.

How to Identify an Uncirculated Coin

The age-old hobby of coin collecting is a popular one that requires a knowledge of what makes a coin valuable. A key factor in determining the value of a coin is whether it is circulated or uncirculated. Uncirculated coins are highly sought after and can be sold at a higher price than circulated coins. Knowing how to identify an uncirculated coin is a vital skill for coin collectors.

The first step in determining if a coin is uncirculated is to examine it closely. Uncirculated coins should exhibit a unique luster in a spinning crossing pattern when held up to a light and slowly rotated. The “cartwheel effect” is a consequence of the minting process. The luster can vary in intensity depending on factors including the type of metal used in the coin. Larger coins also often have a more noticeable luster than small ones.

The effect is caused by microscopic parallel channels struck into the coin that reflect light in a unique way. This luster is rubbed away quite quickly by friction, which is why coins lose it when circulated to the general public. 

In addition to the cartwheel effect, uncirculated coins also must not show major signs of wear and tear. The coin should appear shiny and new, with no tarnish or scratches on it.

The Different Grades of Uncirculated Coins

Uncirculated coins are further graded on a scale between MS60 and MS70. MS60 coins are dull with a washed-out mint luster and can have contact marks or damaged spots. However, it can't have a single trace of wear. MS70 is the absolutely perfect uncirculated coin with an untouched luster and no contact marks even under magnification — it looks perfect.

What Are Proof Coins?

Proof coins are a special type of uncirculated coin that is produced with a meticulous process to achieve a pristine finish. Unlike regular uncirculated coins that are intended for everyday circulation, proof coins are struck specifically for collectors and investors who value their rarity and beauty.

Proof coins are produced using specially treated dies that create a sharp, high-relief image on a mirror-like surface. The dies are carefully polished to remove imperfections before striking the coin, and the blanks used to produce proof coins are also specially selected for their flawless surface.

One key difference between proof coins and uncirculated coins is that proof coins are struck using a high-pressure process. This method results in a sharper, more detailed image with a frosted finish on the raised design elements and a mirror-like finish on the fields (the flat areas between the design elements).

Another notable difference is that proof coins are struck multiple times to achieve their distinct look. A multiple striking process can result in tiny imperfections or blemishes on the surface of the coin, which are closely scrutinized during the grading process.

Proof coins are graded using a different system than regular uncirculated coins. The Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) are two of the most reputable grading services that assign a numerical grade to proof coins based on their condition and overall appearance. The grades range from PR-60 (poor) to PR-70 (perfect) and are similar to MS60-MS70 ratings. However, they include a few different factors that determine the condition of proof coins specifically, like striking blemishes.

Overall, proof coins are considered to be some of the most visually stunning coins on the market. They are usually valued higher than uncirculated coins by collectors and investors alike. While they can be more expensive than regular uncirculated coins because of their rarity and special striking process, they can also offer a great opportunity for investment and appreciation over time.

Best Precious Metals and Coin Dealers

You can find many options for precious metals retailers and coin dealers, and it can be difficult to choose the right ones. Some of the best coin dealers on the market right now are Birch Gold Group, American Hartford Gold, Lear Capital, APMEX and JM Bullion.

All these platforms have direct delivery services if you just want the physical coins as well as great precious metals IRA services.

Circulated vs. Uncirculated vs. Proof Coins: Which is Best?

Proof coins are the best-looking coins overall, but that doesn't make them the best choice for everyone in every situation. Ultimately, the best type of coin for you depends on your individual preferences and goals. Circulated coins are typically sought after by those who are interested in the historical significance of the coin or for those who want to invest in the metal value of the coin.

Uncirculated coins, on the other hand, are probably better for collectors and investors who value the pristine condition of the coin but don't want to break the bank with proof coins. They are usually less expensive than proof coins and can offer a great opportunity for appreciation over time.

Proof coins, while the most expensive of the three, are considered to be the most visually stunning coins on the market. They are produced using a meticulous process and are highly valued by collectors and investors who want to add rarity and beauty to their collections.

Frequently Asked Questions


How do you tell if a coin is circulated or uncirculated?


Check for any signs of wear or damage on the coin’s surface. Circulated coins often show scratches, dents, or a loss of detail due to being in circulation. Uncirculated coins will typically appear in pristine condition, with sharp details and no signs of wear. You can also examine the coin’s edges. Circulated coins may have a smoother or rounded edge, while uncirculated coins tend to have a crisp, reeded edge. If the coin comes with its original packaging or has a certificate of authenticity, it is more likely to be classified as uncirculated.


Is it better to buy proof or uncirculated coins?


Proof coins are specially made for collectors and have a higher level of detail and quality. They are struck multiple times with specially polished dies, resulting in a mirror-like finish. On the other hand, uncirculated coins are regular coins that have not been used in circulation but may still have some minor imperfections.

If you are primarily interested in the aesthetics and rarity of coins, then proof coins may be a better choice. They are often more expensive, but they can be a valuable addition to a collection and may appreciate in value over time. However, if you are more interested in the historical significance or the intrinsic value of the coins, uncirculated coins may be more suitable. They are generally more affordable and can still provide enjoyment and investment potential.


Can you get uncirculated coins from the bank?


Yes, you can get uncirculated coins from the bank. Many banks offer rolls or sets of uncirculated coins for collectors or individuals who prefer to have coins in pristine condition. However, availability may vary depending on the bank and the specific coins you are looking for.

About Henry Stater

Henry is an expert in all things crypto. He stays up to date with all the latest coins, platforms and technologies in the field. He has particular expertise in the burgeoning decentralized finance ecosystem and loves trying out all the new platforms. He also always follows major events in other financial markets and geopolitics as a whole, especially when an event’s effects ripple through the crypto market.