What’s the difference between Burnished and Uncirculated for silver American Eagles?

Readers Ask: A new label for the new U.S. Mint finish
By , Coin World
Published : 12/21/16
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Readers Ask column from the Jan. 9, 2017, Coin World:

I purchased a 2007-W silver American Eagle certified Mint State 70 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. on eBay. The description said it was a Burnished Silver Eagle but the label did not say “burnished.” I noticed in your price guide that you have a price for a Proof 2007-W American Eagle and another price for a Burnished Uncirculated 2007-W American Eagle. I am new to coin collecting and wonder if I bought the wrong item. Does the label on the slab have to say “burnished”? I noticed the 2015-W American Eagle does say “burnished” on the label. 

Larry Herbst / Via email

Much of the confusion lies with changes in 2006 to the U.S. Mint’s terminology and with the hobby’s use an alternative term. From 1986 to 2005, the Mint referred to the American Eagle gold and silver bullion coins as having an “Uncirculated” finish. In 2006, the Mint celebrated the 20th anniversary of the American Eagle program by introducing a collector “Uncirculated” coin while at the same dropping the same term from all marketing materials for the bullion coin versions, even though those pieces still had an Uncirculated finish.

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The Uncirculated finishes used on the bullion and collector versions of the American Eagles since 2006 differ slightly, because planchets for the collector versions are burnished with special media. The hobby seized upon the term “burnished” and eventually began referring to the collector coins as “Burnished Uncirculated.”

As to why the reference was not made on the grading label, I turned to NGC grader and Coin World columnist Scott Schechter for an explanation.

“When the Uncirculated Silver Eagles first came out in 2006, we did not designate them as burnished,” Schechter said via email. “Historically, our labels did not include additional descriptions where there was no ambiguity. Since issue, however, these coins have been widely called ‘Burnished Silver Eagles’ by collectors. ... 

“When we modified our label to allow longer descriptions and because of requests/questions from collectors, we added this terminology to the label.”

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