Even if you’re a beginner collector or investor, there’s an excellent chance you’ve encountered the acronym “BU” at some point. This abbreviation is short for Brilliant Uncirculated, a frequently used term in the numismatic and bullion markets. In this article , we’ll delve into how this designation is used and why it’s important.
Simply put, the term “BU” is a state of condition or grade. A Brilliant Uncirculated coin hasn’t been worn and retains much of its original appearance. It may have jostled around in a tube or bag, but the coin doesn’t show evidence of use as pocket change. How can one tell? When a coin is handled or rubbed, it gradually loses its flash. The mint “bloom” gives way to a more muted and drab appearance. Then, as the coin circulates even more, it loses some of its design detail. The highest points and more delicate elements wear down and eventually disappear.
If a coin is graded Brilliant Uncirculated, one can assume that all design details are intact and the coin is still extremely flashy. It may, however, display marks and scratches. Even if a coin escapes the mint untouched by human hands, it may still show some abrasions. How? It all depends on the striking, packaging, and distribution methods employed by the mint.
Silver Eagles, for instance, are struck and tubed using an automated process. The coins are handled delicately, albeit by fast-moving robots. The result is that most Silver Eagles leave the U.S. Mint in superb condition. Vintage Silver Dollars, on the other hand, were dropped into hoppers and then thrown into giant 1,000-piece canvas bags. Not surprisingly, these coins picked up plenty of nicks and marks along the way.
Nonetheless, despite the vast difference in appearance, both coins were technically issued in Brilliant Uncirculated condition. The abbreviation BU applies to all coins that are in mint-fresh condition, regardless of whether they’re essentially perfect or heavily abraded. For a more precise description of grade, sometimes numismatists will use the terms “Choice BU” or “Gem BU.” For even greater accuracy, PCGS and NGC—two highly renowned coin grading organizations—use numerical grades between 60 and 70. A coin graded Mint State 60 (or MS60) just barely qualifies as Brilliant Uncirculated, while an MS70 is deemed to be perfect.
Some coins are expected to be in BU condition, while others are rare in that state of preservation. Modern Silver Eagles are always expected to grade BU; anything less than Brilliant Uncirculated is considered below market standard. Classic Silver Dollars and gold coins, meanwhile, are scarce in BU and command a premium in higher grades. World gold coins vary tremendously. For instance, Mexico 50 Pesos are typically seen in BU while 20 Franc Napoleons are quite rare in that grade.
Many investors enjoy their bullion holdings as collectibles too. With that in mind, some buyers prefer to own Brilliant Uncirculated coins for their added beauty and superior grade. This was evidenced by our recent offering of BU 90% Silver Coins. Provident sells massive amounts of junk silver, but rarely do we encounter batches of these coins in BU. As soon as we announced that we had BU 90% silver coins in stock, we received a wave of orders. Even though the BU coins command a somewhat higher premium, collectors and investors jumped at the opportunity to own these vintage coins in Mint State condition. Once again, this short abbreviation can really make a big difference!
Do you like to own BU coins in your holdings? Would you pay a premium for coins in Mint State condition? We’d love to hear from you! Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.