Understanding the differences between proof, circulated, and uncirculated coins is essential for any coin collector. Each type of coin has unique characteristics that help it to stand out.
Proof coins are highly sought after by collectors because of their beauty and rarity – they were minted expressly for collectors. Circulated coins are the most common type of coin and can be collected by hobbyists who enjoy finding rare coins in their pocket change. Uncirculated coins are highly sought after by collectors because of their condition and rarity.
Coin grading is the process of determining the condition of a coin, and coins that are in excellent condition are more valuable than those that are heavily worn. Today, we’ll explore the differences between proof, circulated, and uncirculated coins, as well as provide a guide to coin grading.
Coin Collecting: Background
The earliest known examples of coin collecting date back to ancient times. The Romans were known to collect coins as a hobby, and many wealthy Romans such as Emperor Augustus had extensive collections of coins from all over the empire. The Romans saw coin collecting as a way to display their wealth and status, and many collections were passed down through generations as family heirlooms. In fact, ancient Roman coins are an essential source of timeline information as new emperors came and went quickly sometimes, but their reign was marked by the coinage produced at the time.
Ancient Greeks were also known to collect coins, and the first recorded coin collection was that of King Attalus I of Pergamon, who lived in the 3rd century BCE. King Attalus I was known to be a great admirer of art and culture, and he amassed a large collection of coins from all over the ancient world.
In ancient China, coins were collected for their aesthetic value, and some collectors even had specialized rooms or cabinets built to house their collections. The Chinese saw coin collecting as a way to preserve history and culture, and many collectors were also scholars who studied ancient coins to learn more about their country’s history.
Coin collecting became more widespread during the Renaissance, as wealthy Europeans began to collect ancient coins as a way to display their knowledge of history and culture. Many Renaissance collectors saw coin collecting as a way to connect with the past and understand the ancient world.
There have been several notable coin collectors in more recent history including King Louis XIV of France, American president Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joan Crawford!
Today, coin collecting is a popular hobby that is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. Coins are often collected for their historical significance, rarity, and beauty. Some collectors focus on collecting coins from a specific time period or country, while others collect coins that have a unique story or design. Regardless of the collector’s focus, the value of a coin is often determined by its rarity, condition, and historical significance.
Proof vs Circulated vs Uncirculated Coins
Here, we will guide you through the main differences between proof, circulated, and uncirculated coins within the field of numismatics.
Proof coins are specially minted coins that are struck using polished dies and planchets. They are struck multiple times to create a highly polished, mirror-like finish. Proof coins are typically made for collectors and are not intended for circulation. They are often sold in special packaging or sets and can be more expensive than circulated or uncirculated coins.
Proof coins are highly sought after by collectors because of their beauty and rarity. They are often made in limited quantities and can have unique designs or finishes that are not found on regular circulation coins. Proof coins are also graded differently compared to circulated or uncirculated coins (see our guide to coin grading below).
Circulated coins are coins that have been used in circulation, i.e. passed from person to person out there in the wide world. They can be found in change or purchased from a bank. Circulated coins can range in condition from heavily worn to lightly used – the value of a circulated coin is largely determined by its rarity and condition.
Circulated coins are the most common type of coin. They are collected by hobbyists who enjoy finding rare coins in their pocket change. Some collectors focus on collecting coins from a specific time period or country, while others collect coins that have a unique design or story.
Circulated Coin Collector Spotlight: Augustus B. Sage
In the late 1800s, Augustus B. Sage began collecting coins specifically from circulation. Sage was a cashier at the Ontario County Bank in New York, so he had a keen eye for rare and valuable coins. Eventually, he became known as one of the most knowledgeable coin collectors in the area and was often sought out by other collectors and dealers.
One day, Sage received a payment from a customer that included a funky-looking dime. He recognized it as a rare 1796 Draped Bust dime which was one of only 15,000 minted that year. Sage paid the customer $10 for the dime – a significant sum at the time!
Over time, Sage amassed a unique collection of over 15,000 coins, many of which had interesting stories or provenances attached to them. For example, he had a half dime that was once owned by President James Monroe and a quarter that was once owned by Secretary of State Daniel Webster. He also had coins that were used in the Civil War including a Confederate half dollar and a Union penny that was made from melted down bullets.
Sage’s collection was eventually sold to the American Numismatic Society in New York City, where it remains today as the Augustus B. Sage Collection. The collection is a fascinating glimpse into the history of American coinage and the people who used those coins in their everyday lives.
Uncirculated coins are those which have never been entered into circulation. They are often obtained directly from the mint or through a dealer. Uncirculated coins are typically in excellent condition and have a shiny, lustrous appearance. They are free from scratches, dings and wear, and maintain a sharp strike with well-defined, crisp details.
Grading of uncirculated coins is based on the overall condition, with the highest grade being “mint state” (i.e. the coin is in the same condition as if it had just been released from the mint) or “uncirculated.” The grading process takes into account the coin’s luster, strike, and surface condition, as well as any other factors that may affect the coin’s appearance, such as toning or bag marks.
Uncirculated coins are highly sought after by collectors because of their pristine condition and rarity. While many coins are produced each year, only a small percentage of those coins are produced in uncirculated condition, making them highly valuable.
A Guide to Coin Grading
The condition of a coin can have a significant impact on its value. Coins are typically graded on the Sheldon Scale from 1 to 70, with 1 being the lowest grade and 70 being the highest grade. We have assembled a chart to help break down the different grades.
Coin Grading Chart
|A coin that is heavily worn and difficult to identify
|A coin that is heavily worn but can still be identified
|About Good (AG-3)
|A coin that is heavily worn but has some visible design details
|A coin that is heavily worn but has all major design details visible
|Very Good (VG-8)
|A coin that has moderate wear but has most design details visible
|A coin that has moderate wear but still has all design details visible
|Very Fine (VF-20)
|A coin that has light wear but still has all design details visible and sharp
|Extremely Fine (EF-40)
|A coin that has very light wear and has all design details sharp and well defined
|About Uncirculated (AU-50)
|A coin that has very little wear and has most design details sharp and well defined
|Mint State (MS-60 to MS-70)
|A coin that has no wear and has all design details sharp and well defined.
The grading process takes into account several factors, including wear, luster, surface marks, and overall appearance. Coins that are in excellent condition are more valuable than those that are heavily worn. Official grading and certification is performed by numismatic authorities like the Professional Coin Grading Services (PCGS) and the American Numismatic Association (ANA).
Can proof coins be used as currency?
No, proof coins are not intended for circulation and are not accepted as currency.
How can I tell if a coin is proof, circulated, or uncirculated?
The condition of a coin can often be determined by its appearance. Proof coins have a highly polished, mirror-like finish, while circulated coins have wear and surface marks. Uncirculated coins typically have a shiny, lustrous appearance and no wear.
Are circulated coins less valuable than uncirculated coins?
The value of a coin is determined by several factors, including rarity, condition, and historical significance. While uncirculated coins are often in better condition than circulated coins, they are not necessarily more valuable if the circulated coin is particularly rare and sought after.
How can I determine the value of my coins?
You can consult a coin grading guide or seek the advice of a professional coin dealer to determine the value of your coins.
Can I clean my coins to improve their condition?
No, cleaning coins can actually damage their value and appearance. It is best to leave coins in their original condition.