Circulated or Uncirculated? Why a coin found in circulation can lack wear

Found in Rolls: It’s clear that coins can be both
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 10/29/16
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Found in Rolls column from the Nov. 14, 2016, weekly issue of Coin World:

Who would think that there could be something controversial about the simple act of searching through rolls of coins in order to find collectibles? By way of parodying the opening phrase of a soliloquy in the “Nunnery Scene” of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, a reader ponders “Circulated or Uncirculated? That is the question.”

The general definition of the term “circulated,” when used to label a coin, describes a coin that has entered the stream of commerce after having been issued for general circulation by a minting authority. 

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For many, then, a coin defined as Uncirculated is, of course, one that has not entered the stream of general circulation. Such a coin would be one that was issued and perhaps packaged as part of an Uncirculated Mint Set offered for sale by a minting authority.

Since roll searching involves looking through coins that, obviously, have been placed into circulation, must it follow that those coins, which have been issued by a Mint, delivered to and processed by coin counting and distributing companies and subsequently delivered to various banks, must be circulated? Well, not necessarily!

Take the group of coins I recently discovered in rolls during my searches and tell me what you think. Examine the 1959 Lincoln cent, the 1958-D Jefferson 5-cent coin and the 1964 Kennedy half dollar closely. Are they circulated, because they were found in bank rolls or Uncirculated, because they look, well, Uncirculated?

Enter our modern grading system where the status of a coin as circulated or Uncirculated depends solely on a coin’s state of preservation while having little or nothing to do with where the coin was discovered.

With our current and commonly used system of grading coins, Mint State 60 is the minimum grade a coin needs to achieve in order to call a coin Uncirculated. It is easy to see that each of these coins would easily grade MS-60 or better. Set apart from the activity of roll searching, these three coins, exhibiting no signs of circulation wear, could not be told apart from coins that have been separated from U.S. Mint Uncirculated sets.

So even though these coins are circulated, they are also Uncirculated at the same time! For me, if a coin looks Uncirculated then it is Uncirculated, whether or not it was “Found In Rolls!” 

Please share your thoughts and comments by emailing foundinrolls@netscape.net or via Twitter @foundinrollscw.


U.S. coins mentioned in this article:

Kennedy half dollar

Kennedy half dollar: The shot heard around the world in 1963, a bullet from an assassin's weapon that ended the life of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, is still remembered on the annually produced half dollar struck in his honor since 1964. How much are Kennedy half dollars worth?


Jefferson 5-cent coin

Jefferson 5-cent: If one word sums up the Jefferson 5-cent coin, it would be "change" because throughout its storied history it has endured many changes. How much are Jefferson 5-cents worth?


Lincoln cent

Lincoln cent:  The popular Lincoln cent has gone through several reverse updates since it was introduced in 1909 to honor the nation's 16th president on the 100th anniversary of his birth. How much are Lincoln cents worth?

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