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Circulated vs. Uncirculated Coins

Circulated vs. Uncirculated Coins

Guest Blogger:     Katherine Mullen came on board in 2012 to manage the business side of Mullen Coins. Pat Mullen is Mullen Coins’ numismatist. Ride along as Katherine learns the basics of numismatics.


I have always known that uncirculated coins are shinier and have fewer scratches than circulated coins.


Because I started with a large pile of quarters, I found all 50 State Quarters in a few short hours. Not even a collector, I was a little bit proud of myself.


Then Pat presented me with a fancy book for holding the coins. Some of the spaces were already filled, but with the shinier specimens. They were “uncirculated.”  Because I am that kind of person, I would never mix circulated and uncirculated collections together. Now I have to find 13 of the missing uncirculated coins.
What is an Uncirculated (UNC) Coin?


Uncirculated coins show no wear from being thrown into piles, purses, or pockets—the lettering and images look perfect. They are worth more than circulated coins. How much more? According to Pat, the value depends on the year, mint mark, and grade.

What is a grade? A coin’s grade is a formal designation to describe its condition.  For years, dealers assigned a grade to a coin as representing their personal opinion of condition.   Today, reputable third-party grading services (e.g. Professional Coin Grading Service, PCGS) are used to rate a coin’s condition, and encase the coin in protective, labeled cases.  


Great weight is placed on the grades assigned to coins.  Most often, the higher the grade, the more valuable the coin… sometimes by big dollars. There is a fee for coin grading, but for many coins, it’s worth the expense if the coin’s value rises.


Where to Get Uncirculated Coins

    •    Larger Bank Offices
    •    The biggest plus in buying uncirculated coins from a bank is that you pay face value for the coins; there is no premium. The cost of a quarter is 25 cents.

    •    Look at both ends of the rolls you want to buy. If they look brand new, they may all be uncirculated; they may, however, be from different years and mints. That’s part of the adventure!

    •     The downside is that there is no guarantee that a given bank will have uncirculated coins when you walk in, and you can’t place orders for them. It is worthwhile to stop in, though; sometimes luck will be on your side.

    •    The US. Mint

    •    Uncirculated coins can be ordered directly from the Mint (http://catalog.usmint.gov), although quantities are limited to whatever has been recently produced.

    •    If you are interested in rolls from more than 1-2 years ago, concentrate your efforts elsewhere.

    •    Buyers pay a premium for uncirculated coins. For example, a roll of 40 quarters contains $10 in face value.   A roll of America the Beautiful quarters purchased from the mint is $18.95.

    •    Coin Dealers

    •    Immediacy is the advantage when purchasing from a coin dealer. If the dealer has the rolls you seek, he/she will sell them to you.
    •    Dealers often carry older uncirculated bagged or rolled coins. And all have individually packaged UNC coins, either raw (not graded) or slabbed (graded).

    •    Establishing a relationship with a trusted dealer is a good idea, too. Many will call you when they come across your desired coin or roll.

    •    Buyers necessarily pay a premium for uncirculated coins.

Why bother? What do experienced collectors do with UNC rolls and bags? I called in Pat, the numismatist, for this answer… it’s a treasure hunt!

    •    Carefully examining an uncirculated roll could result in finding a rare variety worth a considerable premium to those who collect error coins. 

    •    Finding a very pristine uncirculated example could also be of great value.   The very finest known examples of otherwise common coins are often worth thousands of dollars.   They are known as condition rarities.  If graded by PCGS and achieving the finest known status, even the most common coins are very valuable. 


    •    Then, either keep them for your personal collection or sell them at a profit. 

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