What Are Proof, Reverse and Brilliant Uncirculated Coins?

Posted - October 18, 2022
What Are Proof, Reverse and Brilliant Uncirculated Coins?

Consumers buying gold or silver coins should know the differences between proof, reverse proof and brilliant uncirculated coins. New buyers of silver or gold bullion are often confused about these terms, which are used to describe both the condition and the design of coins. Once you’ve made up your mind about the precious metal you want to buy, the next big step is to decide what kind of coin interests you the most. 

While some precious metal collectors will argue that one or more of these coin types are best. The truth is that proof, reverse proof and brilliant uncirculated coins all come with their own benefits and drawbacks. As you continue to look for the best possible coins to add to your collection, we recommend thinking carefully about your investment goals and aesthetic interests. 

So what are proof coins? What are reverse proof coins? What are brilliant uncirculated (bu) coins? And which type of coin is the best bet for a new investor in search of a beautiful piece of golden coinage? These are all excellent questions, and they are questions we hear a lot – especially from new consumers who are just now getting started on their journey to an impressive coin collection. 

We’re going to answer all of these questions in today’s guide. In each subsection, we plan to break down the definition of this coin before outlining some of the main benefits associated with it. At the end of this post, we’ll give readers an honest opinion about which of these coin types are the best for new and old investors alike. 

If you’re somebody who wants a better understanding of the differences (and advantages) between proof, reverse, and brilliant uncirculated coins, read on to learn a bit more about how these types of coins get their names! 

What are Proof Coins? 

All government-issued bullion coins are specially minted to minimize imperfections. Proof coins, however, offer an entirely different degree of perfection to coin collectors. Most government mints, including the United States Mint, distribute a ‘proof set’ of their most popular coins. These bullion products are struck multiple times using the finest technology to ensure that they are completely free of potential imperfections. 

Many mints strike a single coin multiple times to ensure this level of perfection. Proof coins are also extremely shiny. All gold and silver coins should have some level of shine, but collectors generally use the term ‘mirror characteristics’ to describe the level of shininess present on most actual proof coins. 

When a coin is struck multiple times during the minting process, the shiny background helps to make the intricacies of the art even more visually stunning. Coins with this degree of detail can be worth quite a bit as collector’s items; circulated or even non-proof uncirculated proof coins can’t measure up to the level of detail available on a gold proof coin. 

You can identify a proof coin using a few different methods. The easiest method is to check with the distributor. Because proof coins are so popular among seasoned bullion coin collectors, they are usually clearly labeled as proof coins. Hero Bullion’s proof coins are always labeled on our official website, for example. If you buy a gold coin second-hand and want to make sure that it is actually a proof coin, take a close look at the background. If the coin’s background seems unusually shiny, then you might have a proof coin on your hands. 

Advantages to Proof Coins

There are a few main advantages to buying proof coins. While proof coins may cost a bit more than lower-grade coins, the collectable value is difficult to deny. Proof coins are primarily valued for their visual appeal. Because of the unique double-striking process associated with minting proof coins, these bullion products include an exceptional level of detail, shine and beauty. Who could deny the amazing feeling of holding a highly detailed and shiny American Gold Eagle? 

Rarity is also a major advantage inherent to buying proof coins. Compared to uncirculated coins, proof coins are exceedingly rare. The U.S. Mint, as well as all government mints, are highly motivated to keep things this way, too. Proof coins are supposed to be the highest degree of perfection for a coin, and keeping their value high means minting only a limited number of these special coins each year. 

Some investors also like the personal touch provided by a proof coin. Most of the time, we assume that coins minted from a government mint are distributed using a robotic, non-human process. To the contrary, proof coins are often personally inspected and hand-polished by a specialist before being delivered to the buyer. When you pay for a proof coin, you’re also paying for a second set of seasoned eyes to ensure that your coin is as flawless as you’d expect. 

All of these advantages might come at a hefty price. While BU coins might not have the shine, rarity, and personal touch of a proof coin, they are often quite a bit cheaper – especially if the coin you have your eye on is highly sought-after by investors. 

What are Reverse Proof Coins?

In the previous section, we talked about how proof coins are struck so that their ‘backgrounds’ are as shiny as possible. On proof coins, this results in an extremely detailed design that seems to ‘pop’ when you look at it. Reverse proof coins are struck multiple times – just like proof coins. The main difference between proof and reverse proof coins is that reverse proof coins are struck so that the design – rather than the background – is shiny. 

Reverse proof coins are actually relatively rare. Proof coins have been minted for many decades by the U.S. Mint, but the first United States Mint reverse proof coins were minted and distributed in 2006. This means that only sixteen years have passed since the creation of the first reverse proof coin distributed by the U.S. Mint. Since then, reverse proof coins have become exceedingly popular among coin enthusiasts. 

Given the unique design they offer, as well as the degree of care and detail, it’s no secret why reverse proof coins have become a favorite for American bullion collectors. 

Consumers should know that reverse proof coins are minted using a similar – if not identical – process to proof coins. These products are struck multiple times and then carefully inspected by a specialist to minimize imperfections and maximize their characteristic shine. And like proof coins, reverse proof coins are far rarer than both circulated and brilliant uncirculated coins. The main difference between reverse proof and regular proof coins is the part of the design that is given maximal shine. 

Advantages to Reverse Proof Coins

Proof coins are generally minted by most distributors once per year. Reverse proof coins are, by contrast, only usually made during special occasions. Some reverse proof coins are only made during important dates or anniversaries. For this reason, reverse proof coins are considered even rarer than proofs. This doesn’t mean that proof coins are common; they’re still rarer than regular brilliant uncirculated coins. However, reverse proof coins are as rare as it gets within the bullion coin sector. 

Reverse proof coins might also be more beautiful than proof coins. Many collectors believe this to be the case; the shininess of the design on reverse proof coins stands out against the foggy background they’re struck with. But this might not be the case for all bullion investors. Some consumers prefer proof coins to reverse proof. The aesthetic appeal of coins is a factor that always comes down to personal preference, so we encourage bullion consumers to take a close look at both coin categories to figure out which one looks better. 

In addition to these unique benefits, reverse proof coins offer many of the advantages associated with traditional proofs. Like we mentioned above, there’s something to be appreciated about a coin that is personally inspected by industry specialists before shipment. Reverse proof coins are some of the rarest coin categories on the market, which means that mints are motivated to make sure they are as perfect as possible for the discerning collector. 

What are Brilliant Uncirculated Coins? 

We’ve referenced brilliant uncirculated coins a few times in this guide. Compared to proof and reverse proof coins, brilliant uncirculated coins are fairly common. This doesn’t mean, however, that they are without value and rarity. Among regular, non-proof coins, brilliant uncirculated is the highest perfection designation given to bullion products. As the name suggests, BU coins have never been circulated to any consumers. BU coins are often considered to be excellent long-term investments, an advantage that we’ll cover in the subsection below. 

You might be surprised to learn that not all brilliant uncirculated coins are created equal. Most coin grading companies use the Sheldon Scale, which designates a numerical value to coins based on their level of perfection. While BU coins are typically never circulated into the general population, this does not mean that they’re completely free of imperfections. BU coins can range in numerical grading value – BU gold coins typically fall within the 60-70 range. 

Mints take great care to ensure that BU coins never reach circulation. When a new batch of government-minted coins are distributed, brilliant uncirculated coins are separated from the rest and sometimes even shipped in different vehicles than coins meant for public circulation. 

Advantages to Brilliant Uncirculated Coins

There are a few reasons why someone might choose to buy Brilliant Uncirculated coins. Most new bullion buyers choose to invest in BU coins before any other kind of coin. One significant motivation behind buying BU coins is their relatively cheap price. BU coins are generally far cheaper than proof of reverse proof coins, which makes them an easier market for new buyers to break into. 

BU coins offer a low starting price compared to other coins, but the return on investment offered by these bullion products can be great. As time passes after the distribution of a new batch of government-backed bullion coins, the number of perfect coins decreases steadily. Some people who purchase coins may give them to others, lose them, or otherwise damage the perfect coin that they initially purchased. This makes a true BU coin a rare commodity that only increases in rarity – and thus value – over time. 

We also don’t want to downplay the visual appeal of a BU coin. There’s no disputing that proof and reverse proof coins are typically more beautiful than brilliant uncirculated coins. However, BU gold coins are still carefully minted to minimize imperfections and delivered to consumers with virtually no damages. BU coins purchased either from the U.S. Mint or from a licensed distributor like Hero Bullion are beautiful additions to any collection. 

Final Thoughts: Which Type of Coin Should You Buy?

If you’re struggling to decide between proof, reverse proof and brilliant uncirculated coins, our hope is that this guide provides you with some basic information to help you make a more informed choice. Ultimately, the choice is yours – and no choice is a wrong one. Some consumers prefer the look of a classic BU coin, while other investors only ever buy proof or reverse proof gold/silver coins. There are numerous arguments for all three coin categories – and each investor will offer a different opinion on which type of coin looks the best. 

For your coin collection, you only want the best. We recommend looking at pictures of each coin type before deciding which you should add to your new coin collection. Brilliant uncirculated coins, proof coins and reverse proof coins are all solid investment options. All of these coin types are considerably rarer than circulated coins, and they come with their own unique advantages to both new and experienced bullion buyers. 

If you have any questions about the differences between coin types, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are always happy to help consumers learn more about the investment opportunities associated with bullion coins. 

About The Author

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Hero Bullion provides an environment that is informative and safe for those looking to own physical gold and silver bullion as an investment. We love helping folks at all stages throughout their bullion journey making progress towards acheiving their financial goals. Whether you are a seasoned bullion investor or brand new to the game of gold and silver bullion ownership, we're here to help and serve you in any way we can.