Written or uttered in sequence, the two letters BU are initials
that collectors commonly use as a form of numismatic shorthand to
describe a coin as being Brilliant Uncirculated. A BU coin is one that
exhibits all or most of its original luster while its design details
show no signs of wear from the coin’s use in general circulation
A question that I was recently asked had to do with finding
Uncirculated coins as I search through rolls. Paraphrased, the
question was: If a coin is discovered in a mixed roll of circulated
coins, can that coin be described as being Uncirculated, let alone,
In the past, the term Uncirculated applied to coins that had never
seen general circulation and therefore did not pass from one person to
another. The term was used to suggest that an Uncirculated coin could
not possibly be found in a roll of mixed date Kennedy half dollars,
To the purist, an Uncirculated coin could only be found in
Uncirculated Mint sets or perhaps in boxes of new coins freshly
delivered by the Federal Reserve to a local bank or coin counting company.
Well, something called the Sheldon 70-point grading system changed
all that. In short, William H. Sheldon’s grading scale was devised in
1949 as a part of a pricing system for early copper large cents. The
lowest grade in the system, Poor 1, would describe a coin that is
identifiable as to its type and nothing else. The highest grade used
is Mint State 70, abbreviated as MS-70, a virtually flawless coin.
Sheldon’s idea was to use the scale as a pricing tool. A large
cent graded MS-60 should be worth two times what a similar coin graded
Very Fine 30 would be worth since 60 is twice 30.
Sheldon’s pricing system turned out to be a dud, but the numbers
used on the scale were thought to be scientifically based so they
survived and we use them as the basis for grading coins today.
A coin graded between MS-60 and MS-70 falls within the range of
what we consider to be an Uncirculated or Mint State coin.
Since this system describes the state of preservation of any given
coin, no attention is paid to how a coin comes into the possession of
a roll-searching enthusiast. In other words, if a coin discovered in a
roll is Mint State, it makes no difference if it was found in circulation.
This month’s finds included three Brilliant Uncirculated (MS-63 on
the 1-70 scale) 1964 Kennedy silver half dollars!
So yes, BU coins can be found in rolls!
Take a minute and tell me about your finds at askaboutcoins.com.
Use the Submit Question button!
Bill O’Rourke is a collector who has spent the past several years
searching coin rolls in pursuit of his hobby.