In 2018, a customer left the following feedback after a successful coin purchase from the SAFE online store:
“FAST DELIVERY AND GOOD PRICES! BUT A COUPLE OF UNC COINS WERE SLIGHTLY MORE DAMAGED THAN THEY SHOULD BE”
The coins were exchanged for the customer, but since this is not an unfamiliar problem for coin sellers, where a buyer is not satisfied with a coin taken from a coin roll and sent to them, I decided to take a closer look at the issue and first clarify what UNC is and then look at how and whether a UNC coin taken from a roll can be non-UNC. Is there also a common understanding of “normal damage,” and what could be the buyer’s rights to a coin taken from a roll?
If we take as a basis the book EESTI MÜNDID, RAHAREFORMI MEDALID JA MÜNTKODURAHAD. 2022, 3. VÄLJALASE written by Kaupo Laane. 2022, 3rd edition (p. 7), the meaning of UNC is as follows: “Mint condition. The full coin design and brilliance are preserved.“
Eesti Mündiäri defines UNC on its website as follows: “Uncirculated (UNC) – the coin has not been in circulation. Good quality, only micro-scratches can be found upon closer inspection, which have occurred due to contact with other coins.“
It seems that in both cases, the definitions are somehow in conflict with reality. The term “uncirculated coin” refers to the condition of a coin that has never been in regular cash circulation but not to “micro-scratches.” Also, the properties of an uncirculated or UNC coin cannot be limited to “the full coin design and brilliance.” In other words, there should be no wear marks on the surface of an uncirculated or UNC coin that had been in regular cash circulation.
It is a well-known fact that modern coin minting means mass production in the literal sense of the word, and it is common for the coin’s surface to have small scratches, dents, or marks due to the production process or later transportation. All this also applies to coins in rolls. Or did you know that some banks send out UNC coins in plastic packaging where the coins can move freely and rub against each other?
Therefore, although UNC coins are subject to a high-quality standard, they are not always completely flawless. Scratches, dents, and even stains are quite common. For example, the staining of a UNC coin can be due to several factors, including production defects, transportation or storage, the properties of the coin’s material, or the surrounding environment.
However, the possible damage to the aforementioned UNC coin is not a defect of circulating coins, so the coin is still considered an uncirculated coin. Therefore, it is not correct to define an uncirculated coin as simply having “micro-scratches” and assuming the preservation of the “full coin design.” Because although the number or size of scratches, dents, or stains affects the coin’s value, an uncirculated coin remains uncirculated, or UNC, nonetheless!
For those who want to be sure of the quality of the coin, a different type of coin is more suitable. For example, coins sold in special packaging and coin sets by banks or mints. Their quality is either ideal mint state (BU) or proof (PROOF). In both cases, they are selected coins, and finding a defect is much rarer or almost impossible. Alternatively, one can acquire certified coins that are classified according to the number of errors present. For example, in numismatics, a scale ranging from MS-60 (many errors) to MS-70 (a perfect coin without any defects) is used to evaluate uncirculated coins. MS stands for Mint State. The aforementioned scale is evidence that two UNC coins taken from the same roll can differ from each other like night and day!
Now, when it comes to buying coins with the goal of creating a collection of uncirculated coins, one must consider the above description. A scratch, mark, or stain does not change the definition and nature of an uncirculated coin. Moreover, there is no basis for setting a personal quality standard for UNC coins based on micro-scratches or, even worse, starting to evaluate coins according to the “usually” criterion. The latter is dependent on each collector individually, and therefore, such a standard does not exist.
However, as mentioned earlier, defects in an uncirculated coin affect its value, and it has a completely different meaning. There is a big difference between a purchased coin with a large stain on it and a coin in a “flawless” condition. The ethical behavior of the merchant and the customer’s literacy also come into play. If a UNC coin is being sold, the buyer must understand the term, agree to the appearance of the next uncirculated coin taken from the roll (the merchant must agree to this), and be aware that it may have scratches, marks, or stains. However, if the merchant sees that the coin is clearly “damaged,” perhaps it would be wise to classify it as a business expense or provide it with a discount. This does not mean that the coin is not UNC, but it avoids unnecessary and always negative disputes.
SAFE e-shop offers a small selection of 2-euro commemorative coins. All coins, unless otherwise specified, are uncirculated coins originally from a roll. Although the store staff handles the coins with gloves, and each coin is sent out in a separate pocket, this does not guarantee that the coins have not been touched or damaged before! This possibility must also be considered when purchasing loose coins. If you want a guarantee, you must choose a higher quality standard, which unfortunately also comes with a higher price.
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