Circulated vs Uncirculated

In the world of coin collecting, these terms have taken on multiple meanings, which can lead to confusion with new collectors. We’ll aim to clear up some of this confusion on this page.

Mainly the confusion comes due to the terms being used for two different meanings. They can be used to describe both the purpose of a coin and the condition of a coin.

Purpose

Circulating Coins

These are coins issued by the Royal Australian Mint for use in general circulation. That is, the coins sent to the Bank, and in turn to shops, restaurants, vending machines and other points of retail. These coins are the ones that can turn up in your change.

They could be the standard issue coins, that have featured the same designs since they were launched. Also, each year several commemorative coin designs are released into circulation.

Note, that some of these commemorative coins are available in special carded versions or PNCs – but the coin was primarily designed for circulation.

Non-Circulating Legal Tender

Each year, many coins are designed and released purely for the intention of being collectables. These are mainly bought by collectors or as gifts. They can be unique designs, or special versions of circulating designs.

Mostly, these are still legal tender. This means that they have a face value, and technically can be used as real money.

Condition

There are two main terms used when broadly describing the condition of a coin. Uncirculated and Circulated. As a very rough guide, this translates to New or Used.

Uncirculated

When describing the condition of a coin, Uncirculated means that the coin shows no signs of being handled, as would be evident if it had changed hands through circulation.

Normally, this means it has come straight from the mint or a bank in an original bag or roll. In the case of collectible coins, these are of course always uncirculated to begin with.

Circulated

If a coin has been found in your change, then it is considered Circulated. Obviously, there is still a huge range of actual conditions within this definition. You may find a grubby old 1970’s coin covered in grime or a quite shiny 2019 that’s clearly only seen a few people’s pockets.

Occasionally you may see reference to aUNC, meaning ‘almost’ uncirculated. This is for coins that are a very nice condition, but just fall short of being able to called uncirculated.

Not Intended for Circulation

This term is used to describe coins that were originally created not for circulating, but have somehow found their way into circulation and turned up in someone’s change. Obviously, they are considered circulated, but have this special term to note their origin.

Grading

When trying to more accurately describe the condition of a coin, beyond simply circulated or not – a grading system can be used.

The scale goes from :

  • Mint State (i.e. uncirculated)
  • Almost Uncirculated
  • Extra Fine
  • Very Fine
  • Fine
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Almost Good
  • Fair
  • Poor
  • Ungradeable

This is also a scale used by professional grading companies such as PCGS. They actually go further to breakdown grades within these categories, creating a scale from 1-70.

We will be creating a more detailed guide on these grades in the near future. Meanwhile, you can read PCGS’s detailed explanations of these grades.

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