As you know, people use all sorts of descriptions and acronyms for coin conditions and grading a coin is inherently subjective. The condition of a coin is an essential bit of information when determining not only the price but also whether it is what the buyer is actually looking to buy. Some collectors prefer all their coins to be perfect and unblemished, while others prefer circulated coins, coins that have been used, and some will want the same coin in a number of different grades.
When we talk about the condition of the coin it generally means how much wear and tear has the coin endured in its lifetime. So, here's my take on the different terms, feel free to disagree or add any further detail in the comments below. I'll start with the coins that has have the most wear and tear, moving down to the ones with the least.
Circulated Coins (CIRC)
First up are circulated coins, coins that have been in your pocket, put into a fruit machine or found down the back of the sofa. They can generally be graded in to 3 categories:
1. Fine (F) Fine coins have entered circulation and display considerable wear to the raised surfaces of the design.
2. Very Fine (VF) Very fine coins have limited evidence of wear on their raised surfaces but have experienced only minimal circulation.
3. Extremely Fine (EF) Extremely fine coins show only minimal marks or faint evidence of circulation, apparent only on close examination.
Note: Each of these categories can be split down further into sub categories where descriptions can be added to give a more accurate description.
For example, a coin may be described as 'Good Very Fine' which is a slightly higher than 'Very Fine' or conversely, may be described as 'Nearly Very Fine' which is slightly lower than 'Very Fine'. The lowest term in the group is 'About Very Fine' which is slightly lower than 'Nearly Very Fine'. Fine with that? OK, next up are uncirculated coins.
Uncirculated Coins (UNC)
Uncirculated coins are in new condition as issued by the Mint, retaining their brilliance but possibly displaying some imperfections from the production or storage processes. In other words, these coins are the ones you would find if you were to open a sealed bag of coins from the post office. They have not been put into the till but will have marks and dinks on them where they have come into contact with other coins in the bag and in manufacture.
Like circulated coins, there are sub categories with 'About UNC' just lower than 'UNC' and 'Nearly UNC' just lower than About UNC'. Some collectors will use the term 'Choice' to mean a higher level than 'UNC'. Next, we have...
Brilliant Uncirculated Coins (BUNC, BUC, BU)
Brilliant Uncirculated coins are a higher standard than circulating and uncirculated coins. The dies (the extremely hardened, metal stamping tools) used to strike Brilliant Uncirculated coins are polished and finished by hand.
These coins have very few blemishes, if at all and have minimal discoloration. They are of a higher quality and offer a good level of design. The coins in the Royal Mint packs are Brilliant Uncirculated coins.
Proof Coins / Fleur De Coin (FDC)
Proof coins are struck with highly polished hand-finished dies that are prepared carefully prior to striking. Every Proof coin is struck at least twice and the second strike deepens the relief and gives the coin more definition. The decision to hand-finish the dies means that there will be no imperfections before a coin is produced.
Strikes on Proof coins use less pressure than the standard minting process, and the dies are used less often, which helps to preserve the fine detail of the Proof coin. These are top notch, the highest quality of coin that the Mint produces and have a price tag to go with it.
And there we have it, my take on coin grading. I hope you found some of that useful. Please let me know if you use any other terms when grading your coins and what grade of coin you collect. Comments welcome below.