What Does BU Mean in Coins?

Posted - August 14, 2023
What does BU mean in coins

Whether you’re just starting out investing in coins or you’re a certified expert, it can be difficult to make sense of the complex terminology and lingo that surrounds the sector. Investing wisely doesn’t just mean buying the most popular gold, silver, and platinum coins. Smart investors understand how coin characteristics impact the value of a precious metal product. 

One important aspect of a coin’s value is its condition. Coins in the best condition are often far more valuable than pieces in a poor grade. You’ll see several terms thrown around when we discuss coin condition. BU, or Brilliant Uncirculated, is a popular type of coin characterized by minimal damage and pristine overall condition. But what does BU mean in coins? 

If your goal is to buy the best coins possible, you’re going to need to learn as much as you can about how coins are graded and evaluated. This guide should be a solid resource for you while you research the subject. Today, we’re discussing a key question that new bullion collectors often have: what does BU mean in coins? 

Characteristics of BU Coins

There are several characteristics of BU coins that you need to be aware of. What does BU mean in coins? Before you can recognize a Brilliant Uncirculated silver, gold, or platinum coin by sight, you should understand the main characteristics of a BU coin. We’ll discuss five below: the definition of BU condition, distinctive features, how BU coins are graded, the importance of proper storage and preservation, and the rarity and value of BU coins. 

Definition of BU Condition 

What is a Brilliant Uncirculated coin, and what does BU mean in coins? BU coins are coins with the highest possible Sheldon scale grade. The Sheldon scale is a universal system used to determine the condition/grade of a coin. This grading system is used to evaluate bullion coins like the American Silver Eagle, but it can also be applied to rare, numismatic coins

Coins on the Sheldon scale are given a grade based on their condition, blemishes, and level of circulation and damage. Over time, most coins exposed to the elements lose at least some of their original luster and shine. Coins in cull condition have been heavily circulated and damaged over the years, which leaves them barely comparable to their original shine and beauty. 

Morgan Silver Dollar Coin - 1878-1904 BU
BU Morgan Silver Dollar Coin

But BU coins are different. What does BU mean in coins and their values? Brilliant Uncirculated coins retain their original look; they’re as beautiful as ever and have been kept from the ravages of exposure and circulation. 

Distinctive Features of BU Condition 

What does BU mean in coins? Coins classified as BU are nearly perfect. They contain no scratches, wear, or other signs of damage. Perhaps more importantly, the coins also retain their full original luster, giving them a shiny appearance that would fade over time with a less perfect bullion coin. 

And what about older coins? What does BU mean in coins from hundreds of years ago? Rare coins are almost never found in Brilliant Uncirculated condition. Just like with modern bullion coins, a numismatic coin in BU condition would be entirely uncirculated and free from all scuffs, marks, and other imperfections. Because most classic numismatic coins are very old, they’re very rarely discovered – or traded – in BU condition. 

How BU Coins are Graded

BU coins are graded on the Sheldon scale. But even among the BU classification, not all coins are created equal. The Sheldon scale uses a set of unofficial grades to characterize the differences between different coins that are Brilliant Uncirculated. Once a coin earns a number grade of 60 or more, it falls into this category. 

What does BU mean in coins, and how are different uncirculated coins graded? The most perfect possible grade that can be given to a coin in MS-70, or Perfect Uncirculated. Even when put under a magnifying glass or microscope, these coins are entirely perfect. Even coins certified as MS-60, the minimum grade possible for uncirculated coins, might appear unblemished to the naked eye. 

Importance of Preserving BU Condition 

If you purchase a coin in BU condition, it’s extremely important that you keep the coins safe and free from potential sources of damage. While we don’t necessarily recommend buying an expensive safe to store cull numismatic silver coins, a storage process is essential if you’re trading primarily in BU coins. What does BU mean in coins and their value? Coins in BU condition rapidly lose their value as they slide down the Sheldon scale, so keeping good care of your Brilliant Uncirculated investments is an integral part of smart collecting. 

Rarity and Value of BU Coins 

BU coins are extremely rare, which keeps their value high. Compared to circulated coins, BU coins are minted in low numbers and are traded quickly on the secondary market. Like we mentioned in the section before, Brilliant Uncirculated coins are worth far, far more than their cull counterparts. If your coins aren’t secured and protected from damage, then they’ll lose value quickly over time. What does BU mean in coins when it comes to value? 

BU Coins Vs. Other Grades

Let’s take some time to compare BU to other coin conditions. What does BU mean in coins compared to other con grades? In addition to a spike in value, there are several differences between BU coins and coins in lesser condition. We’ll compare BU coins to uncirculated and proof coins below. After that, we’ll take a look at a few of the key advantages of collecting BU coins instead of coins in poorer condition. 

Differences Between BU, UNC, and Proof

UNC, or uncirculated, coins have never actually been circulated into use as currency. They usually come straight from a manufacturing mint, but can sometimes be sold on the secondary market as well. These coins might feature small signs of wear, such as marks or blemishes, but they nevertheless retain most of their original coin luster. 

When we transition from UNC to BU condition, coins no longer have these marks and blemishes. In addition to never having been traded on the circulated market, BU coins are free of almost all signs of wear and damage. 

Perennial vs Annual Designs for Gold and Silver Bullion
BU American Gold Eagle

Finally, let’s talk about proof coins. Proof coins are special coins minted using a specialized, complicated process to ensure complete perfection. Oftentimes, they’re struck twice, providing these coins with a unique, almost frosted finish. Their shine is exceptional, even compared to other Brilliant Uncirculated coins. What does BU mean in coins, and how is it different from other types of coins? BU coins are perfect in almost every way, but they don’t offer the same frosted finish associated with proof coins. 

Collectors’ Preferences for BU Coins

Collectors of popular coins tend to prefer their pieces in BU condition. In addition to being the highest regular grade that we can assign to a coin, these products tend to be beautiful, making them excellent options for expanding and diversifying your portfolio. What does BU mean in coins for collectible value? Investors will almost always pay an additional premium over spot for coins in Brilliant Uncirculated condition. 

Advantages of Collecting BU Coins

There are several notable advantages to collecting BU coins. What does BU mean in coins, and what are the upsides of investing in them? We recommend buying coins in Brilliant Uncirculated condition for three main reasons. First, the coins are highly collectable and tend to appreciate in value significantly over time. Second, products in BU condition are often certified by their manufacturing mint, adding another layer of security to your investment. Finally, BU coins are beautiful; their lack of blemishes makes them excellent ways to grow the value of your precious metals portfolio. 

Rarity and Availability of BU Coins 

BU coins are in short supply, especially compared to coins in poorer condition. What does BU mean in coins, and how does condition affect rarity? BU condition coins become rarer each year after their limited mintage run. This is because some of the coins sold to collectors will naturally become less beautiful and perfect over time. Collectors who want to capitalize on the rarity of BU coins should keep their investments carefully protected. 

What Does BU Mean in Coins?
BU 1 oz American Silver Eagle

Collecting BU Coins 

At this point in our guide to, “what does BU mean in coins,” you might already know that this coin condition is one of the premier ways to invest in gold, silver, and platinum bullion products. So where do you start when looking for BU coins to buy? Below, we’ll explain four tips for BU coin collectors: identifying BU coins, handling them properly, storing and displaying BU coins, and building a collection.

Tips for Identifying BU Coins 

There are several helpful tips you can keep in mind when trying to identify BU coins. First, do business only with reputable mints that you trust. These mints should provide you with a certificate of authenticity to go along with your Brilliant Uncirculated coin. Additionally, look for visible signs of damage on the exterior of your coin. Too much damage likely means that the coin isn’t actually BU. 

How to Handle BU Coins Properly

We’re always strong advocates of keeping BU coins inside of their original coin capsules or display cases. While the allure of pulling your coins out to examine them is strong, we don’t recommend doing this often. After all, you risk losing value on your investment each time you handle your coins without proper protective gear

Storage and Display of BU Coins

You can display BU coins using a coin display case of a coin capsule. For large collections, display cases are a good option to put all of your coins in one place and show off their natural beauty. Smaller collectors might consider investing in a small safe and some coin flips, which can also protect your BU coins from the elements. 

Coin collections worth tens of thousands of dollars might not have a place in your home safe. While some homeowners insurance plans allow investors to insure thousands of dollars worth of bullion, other plans might only ensure small amounts of precious metals. Be sure to check with your insurance provider to see what kind of coverage they offer, and don’t be afraid to reach out to professional storage providers in order to keep your collection safe

Building a BU Coin Collection 

When you first start out building a BU coin collection, try to prioritize coins that are interesting to you. Most bullion coins in BU condition will offer value appreciation over time, and they also benefit when the spot price of gold, silver, or platinum spikes. Diversifying your collection is also a time-honored investment strategy. What does BU mean in coins, and how does diversification relate to building a collection? By buying BU coins from around the world, you offer yourself multiple paths to profit and financial stability. 

The Evolution of BU Coins 

What does BU mean in coins? To answer this question, we should take a look at the historical background of BU as a coin classification. 

Historical Background of BU Coins 

Some investors are unaware of the fact that “Brilliant Uncirculated” is actually an unofficial grading title. The Sheldon scale technically grades uncirculated coins MS60, or Mint State 60. This numerical grade starts a series of coin grades commonly known as uncirculated. MS70 is the highest possible grade that is offered on the Sheldon scale; it contains no actual traces of wear or imperfections, even at significant magnification. 

2023 Morgan & Peace Silver Dollar Set NGCX 10
2023 Morgan and Peace NGCX 10 Set

Modern bullion dealers often use BU to unofficially refer to coins that have never been circulated and contain nearly no magnifiable blemishes. What does BU mean in coins? The term itself is a bit nebulous, but this coin grade typically refers to bullion pieces that are both uncirculated and free of damage. 

Notable BU Coin Series and Releases

Almost every major world coin can be classified as BU. What does BU mean in coins from the United States Mint? Whether you’re buying from the U.S. Mint, the Royal British Mint, or any of the popular government mints from around the world, you’ll likely be able to purchase coins in BU condition for your collection. The American Silver Eagle, Canadian Gold Maple, and British Platinum Britannia are all examples of notable BU coins. 

Final Thoughts: What Does BU Mean in Coins? 

Let’s take one more moment to answer the main question of today’s guide: what does BU mean in coins? BU is one of several possible classifications used to refer to coins with an exceptionally fine condition. Coins in BU condition contain very few – or no – visible markings, and they’ve never been circulated on the open market. In other words, these coins have been preserved in their original condition after being taken from their manufacturing mint. 

BU coins are a gold standard for precious metal investment for a reason. They provide exceptional collectable value and are time-honored favorites for numismatic bullion investors. 

About The Author

Michael Roets is a writer and journalist for Hero Bullion. His work explores precious metals news, guides, and commentary.