What is the difference between Proof, Brilliant Uncirculated and Bullion coins?
The Royal Mint produces three types of uncirculated commemorative coin finish: Proof, Brilliant Uncirculated and Bullion. Proof coins are the highest standard of commemorative coin produced by The Royal Mint. Brilliant Uncirculated coins have a higher standard of finish than Bullion coins, without the extra finishing and detail provided on Proof coins. Bullion coins have a similar standard of finish to circulating coins.
What are Proof coins?
Royal Mint Proof coins are the highest quality commemorative coin produced by The Royal Mint. With no equal in sharpness, detail and finish, they're renowned for being the pinnacle of the minter’s art all over the world. Royal Mint Proof coins are perfect for collectors looking to own coins with the highest levels of craftsmanship and design detail.
The dies used to strike Proof coins are all hand-finished. This is to ensure that all imperfections are removed before they're used to strike a coin. Each Proof blank is placed into a coin press by hand. Proof blanks are of a higher quality than Brilliant Uncirculated and Bullion blanks. Proof coins will be struck up to six times, at a lower speed and with less pressure than other finishes. This ensures a smoother, sharper finish and preserves the finer details of the design.
After striking, each Proof coin is removed from the press by hand and checked for imperfections. The dies are cleaned with air between each coin to ensure that no marks or imperfections are caused during striking. As a result of the extra care and attention, no more than 50 Proof coins can be struck per hour. Whereas, for example, Bullion coins are produced at a rate of around 3,000 coins per hour. The Proof dies are regularly re-worked and re-polished to maintain a blemish-free finish when striking. Each Proof die may only strike a few hundred coins before it has to be re-polished.
Interestingly, not all Proof coins have the same finish. The most common example is where the background of the design - the ‘table’ - has a polished mirror finish and a frosted effect is applied to the foreground - the ‘relief’. This gives a higher contrast and more definition to the coin design. The frosted effect is achieved by sand and glass bead blasting the surface of the die, with the table protected. On rare occasions the coin will be finished with ‘reverse frosting’, where the table is frosted and the relief polished. There are also variations of frosting, such as Matt and Satin. Proof coins have, on a few occasions, been given an all frosted finish.
It’s not the quality of the finish alone that makes Proof coins so appealing to collectors. Often struck with low mintages, Proof coins are also rarer than other commemorative coins.
What are Brilliant Uncirculated coins?
Brilliant Uncirculated is often referred to as ‘BU’, ‘B.U.’, and ‘B.UNC’.
Brilliant Uncirculated coins are a higher standard than circulating and bullion coins. Like Proof coins, the dies used to strike Brilliant Uncirculated coins are polished and finished by hand. They're given a consistent polished finish with none of the additional frosting that is applied to Proof coins.
The Brilliant Uncirculated blanks are machine-fed, not hand-fed, and struck twice. As a result, they are produced at a much quicker rate than Proof coins, at around 100 coins per hour.
They offer a good level of design detail but with lower definition than Proof coins. They are intended as an entry-level collectible coin or as the perfect affordable gift for someone looking to mark a special year.
What are Bullion coins?
Bullion coins are generally bought for their intrinsic qualities, and to be kept as a store of value. The production of Bullion coins places an emphasis on efficiency. They are struck at a rate of up to 250 gold and 3,000 silver coins per hour, and have a similar standard of finish to circulating coins. This is to avoid the premium of producing coins to Proof and Brilliant Uncirculated standards.
The finish on Bullion coins is not intended to particularly highlight the detail and artistry of the coin’s design, or the craftsmanship and skill of its minting. However, Royal Mint Bullion coins are renowned for their distinctive and beautifully rendered designs.
Which coin is right for me?
If you are interested in owning gold or silver coins for their intrinsic value (the value of the precious metal) then Bullion coins are the coins for you. Bullion coins are sold at a small premium over and above the metal price. Of course, Brilliant Uncirculated and Proof coins can also make stunning long lasting legacy gifts or heirlooms that can be passed on from generation to generation.
If you are buying a coin as a gift to mark a special year, or wish to own a high quality version of the design, without paying the premium that Proof coins demand, then Brilliant Uncirculated coins are right for you.
But, if you want to own or gift the highest quality coin finish available, the pinnacle of craftsmanship, expertise and design for commemorative coins, then Proof coins are the connoisseur’s choice.