What does 'burnished' mean for American Eagle coins?

Readers Ask: Collectors have questions and Coin World has answers
By , Coin World
Published : 01/06/13
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Readers ask, Coin World answers. 

Let's dive into the mailbag and see if we can help some collectors out with getting the information they need. 

A Burnished Finish 

Q: I seem to have forgotten what a “burnished” finish refers to on Uncirculated American Eagle silver dollars. Will you please explain this to me? I purchase the Uncirculated silver American Eagles in original boxes from the U.S. Mint. When did the Mint start offering the original boxes and are the coins in them burnished?

Donald E. Bratz -  Mapleton Depot, Pa.

A: When the United States Mint began issuing silver and gold American Eagles in 1986, it offered them in two versions: Uncirculated bullion coins for investors and Proof coins for collectors. The Mint continued to offer the coins in both finishes for 20 years, through the end of 2005.

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The Mint expanded its product offerings starting in 2006 and changed its marketing practices, leading the collecting community to adopt a new descriptive phrase for the new products. Mint officials in 2006 introduced what they called “American Eagle Gold and Silver Uncirculated coins,” intended for collectors and bearing the Mint marks of the Mint facility where they were produced.

The Mint has sold the Uncirculated American Eagle coins directly to collectors and other customers, like other numismatic products. When sold individually, each coin is placed into a protective plastic capsule that is then inserted into a box, as the reader remarks.

Although the Mint calls the collector American Eagles “Uncirculated,” much of the collecting community calls them “Burnished Uncirculated” — a descriptive phrase not used by the Mint.

Also in 2006, Mint officials began marketing the bullion pieces — still bearing an Uncirculated finish — as “American Eagle Bullion Coins.” As of 2006, the Mint has stopped referring to the bullion coins as “Uncirculated” even though the coins bear an Uncirculated finish.

When announcing the Uncirculated 2006 American Eagle coins in 2005, Mint officials stated that the new coins would feature the same finish as the bullion coins, but unlike the bullion pieces, would be struck on planchets that were burnished. Planchets used for the bullion coins do not go through the burnishing process used for the collector Uncirculated coins.

Since the first coins were introduced in 2006, the Mint has offered Uncirculated silver, gold and platinum American Eagles, though not in every year.

The coins have been offered individually, with some pieces, including the silver American Eagles, also offered in special sets.

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