In the art world, proofs are usually defined as prints made prior to an official production run. The goal of such proofs is to give artist and printer alike a sneak peek at the planned edition so they can fine tune colors, registration, and other crucial details. The resulting imperfect proofs are thus variants of the final product, although they are often collected as enthusiastically as prints in the final signed-and-numbered edition.

With U.S. coins, proofs are roughly the opposite. In fact, proof coins are not even considered a part of a coin’s overall production run since the methods used to create them are completely distinct from those used to make the coins themselves.

To begin, proof coins are struck with dies that have been carefully selected for their perfection. These dies are cleaned and polished throughout the production process. Similarly, the planchets or blanks that the dies strike are usually stamped out of highly polished metal sheets and then hand fed into the press. Proofs are typically struck twice so that their features exhibit sharp relief, from their edges to their portraits, often with mirrorlike surfaces, or fields, in between.

Although some proofs were struck prior to 1856, many of these coins are museum pieces, which is why most collectors focus their attention on proofs minted between 1856 and 1916, 1936 and 1942, 1950 and 1964, and 1968 until the present day. The date of 1936 is significant because that was when the Mint began to actively market proof sets to the public in addition to individual proof coins.

In general, there are three types of proofs. The most desirable kind is known as a frosted or cameo proof. Coins of this type have the classic mirrorlike fields, which are interrupted by portraits and other devices that have a frosted appearance, which makes the contrast within the coin especially dramatic. The surface of matte proofs appears to have been sandblasted, while the so-called “brilliant” proofs have mirrorlike fields and portraits, giving them an overall shiny look.

Of the late-19th-century coins, some proofs are actually less prized than regularly minted coins of comparable grade. Examples of this anomaly include most proof quarters struck in Philadelphia between 1866 and 1891, especially in the earliest years. For most pre-1936 coins, proofs are more sought-after by collectors than their uncirculated counterparts. Matte Buffalo nickels from 1913 to 1916 are a good example of the value placed on proof coins, as are most Barber dimes from 1892 to 1915.

World War I put the brakes on proofs, but it’s unclear why it took Mint officials 20 years to get the program going again. Whatever the reason—some blame bureaucratic inertia, ot...

Another world war halted the release of proof sets until 1950, when the Mint raised the price of a set from $1.89 to $2.10 while more than doubling production. Retail prices for the sets, which included the same five denominations as the 1936-1942 sets and were now packed in Pliofilm, held steady through 1964, but the Mint had noticed how buyers had been snapping up its sets and selling them for a fast profit. So, in 1968, it began to pack its proof sets in plastic holders and raised the price to $5.

Higher prices combined with radically increased productions runs (three million was not uncommon after 1961) conspired to suck the air out of the proof-set market. Especially hard hit were the top-of-the-line Prestige Sets, which in most cases are actually worth less today than what collectors paid for them when issued—the notable exceptions being the 1983S set with an Olympic dollar and the 1990S set missing an S cent. Proof sets that appear to have held their own include the five-piece state quarter sets issued since 1999 (that first set has proved most popular among collectors).

One final bit of terminology to pay attention to is the word prooflike, which describes a regularly minted, uncirculated coin with a mirrorlike surface. Some of the most dramatic examples of prooflike coins are Morgan dollars minted at the end of the 19th century. In some cases, the prooflike coin will have valuations well into five or six figures (the 1894 and 1901 Morgans, respectively), while proof coins from those same years can be picked up for four.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Legendary Coins and Currency

Legendary Coins and Currency

This online exhibition from the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is a great way to get an overview… [read review or visit site]

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors

Home to the Society of U.S. Pattern collectors, this well-organized site provides in-depth information on pattern c… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

2014 W Us Mint Gold Proof High Relief Kennedy 50th Anniversary Ngc Pf70 Er 2012 United States Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof Set - These Sold Out FastPcgs Pr65 1914 Proof Buffalo Nickel Cac Old Green Holder Toned Ogh 5c2012 S 8-piece Limited Edition Silver Proof Set2012 Us Presidential Dollar Proof Set-in Original Box With All Ogp Including Coa2014 W 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-dollar Gold Proof Coin (k15) Us-mint 2012 United States Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof Set With Box,sleeve & Coa1864 One Dollar Gold Piece Civil War Era Very Scarce Proof Like2012 United States Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof Set With Box,sleeve & Coa1895 Pcgs Pr64rb Indian Cent 1c Proof Nicely Toned Ogh2012 Silver Proof Set1884 Cc $1 Ngc Ms 65 Pl, Proof Like Morgan Silver Dollar, Gem Uncirculated 2014 P National Baseball Hof Hall Of Fame Silver Proof Coin 2012 Us Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof Set1938 Walking Liberty Silver Half Dollar Slabbed Pcgs Proof 651955 Ngc Franklin Half Dollar, Proof, Ngc Pf 67 ** Great High Grade Pf!1988 Gold Bullion American Eagles Proof Set 4 Coins1906 Barber Quarter Pcgs Proof 65 Coin Looks Pq+ And Cameo!2012 Silver Proof Set2012 S United States Mint Silver Proof Coin Set W/ Certificate Of Authenticity1971-s Silver Proof Eisenhower "ike" Dollar Super Rainbow Toned ~colorful Toning2012 Us Mint Clad Proof Set Complete With Box R544-h 1938 Walking Liberty Half Dollar, Stunning Proof, Smooth Silver Surfaces!1902-s Morgan Dollar Nice Uncirculated Deep Mirror Proof Like Very Rare!2011 Reverse Proof American Silver Eagle 25th Anniversary Pcgs Pr69 First Strike1877 Seated Liberty Dime Proof 10c - Pcgs Cac Pr62 Certified & Graded Rattler2014-p Baseball Hall Of Fame $1 First Strike Pcgs Proof-70 Dcam - Perfect Grade2013 Us Mint Silver Proof Set 14 Coins1951 Proof Set / All Coins Graded By Ngc / See Description For Grades1989-s $1 Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo (proof Silver Eagle) - Pr70!!! Rare .999 1oz Bullion1868 Seated Liberty Dime Proof 10c - Pcgs Pr62 Certified & Graded - Rattler R.61885 Seated Liberty Dime Proof 10c - Pcgs Cac Pr63 Certified & Graded Rattler1938 Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny, Proof, Low Mintage! ** Free Shipping!1879 O Morgan! Super Rare Pl/dmpl! Gorgeous Mirrors! Proof Like Ms+++ No Reserve2014 P National Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof Silver Dollar Coin W/ Coa1964-2014 W 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar Gold Proof 69-hr-er-uc2014-w Baseball Hall Of Fame Gold $5 First Strike Pcgs Proof-70 Dcam1878 S Morgan Dollar Pcgs Ms 64 Pl Proof Like Reflective Coin 100% Original *nice Gift! 1 -2014-p Silver Proof(b33) Baseball Hall Of Fame$1 Coin + Coa2014 Baseball Hall Of Fame 1oz Proof Bu Silver Dollar Mint Box With Coa One $2014 S Silver Kennedy 50c Proof Coin Pf 70 Ultra Cameo Er 50th Anniversary Label2014 Us Mint Silver Proof Set 14 Coins2012 Presidential Proof Set2014-w 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar Gold Proof Coin K15 Jfk 24k Us Mint2013 Us Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof Set1964 Pcgs Pr64 Colorful Toned Jefferson Proof Nickel Ex Anaconda2013 Us Mint 90% Silver Proof Set With Box And Coa ~14 Coins~2013-w Girl Scouts Usa 1oz Bu Proof Silver Dollar Coin In Mint Box With Coa 1968 S Pcgs Pr66 Gem Colorful Toned Jefferson Proof Nickel Ex Anaconda2012-s 10c Silver (from Limited Edition Proof Set) Pcgs Proof-70 Dcam2014 W 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-dollar Proof Gold Coin, Ngc Pf70uc, Er1988-s $1 Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo (proof Silver Eagle) - Pr70!!! Rare 1 Oz Bullion!1986-s Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo Proof Silver Eagle - Pf 70! Rare: Registry Set 1oz1898-s Morgan Silver Dollar, Reflective Proof-like Surfaces, ** Free Shipping!1986-s Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo Proof Silver Eagle - Pf 70! Rare: Registry Set 1oz2014-p Baseball Ngc Pf70 Silver Dollar Hall Of Fame Label Proof Ultra Cameo1964 Proof Kennedy 'accented Hair' Half Dollar Ngc Pf 66Complete Set Dansco Jefferson Nickels Au/unc 1938-2014 Dps + Bu Proof 218 Coins1970 S Pcgs Pr64 Colorful Toned Jefferson Proof Nickel Ex Anaconda1942-p Type 2 Proof Jefferson Nickel - Pcgs Pr65

Recent News: US Proof Coins

Source: Google News

HDD Proof of Capacity Mining, is it Viable?
CryptoCoinsNews, October 30th

HDD Mining is now possible through a coin called Burstcoin. While there are ways of mining Burstcoin using PoW methods, BurstCoin is meant to be mined using a unique proof of capacity algorithm. Prior to mining, miners generate segments of data known ...Read more

The Coin Analyst: 2014 Kennedy Silver Set Sales at US Mint site Open at 85670
CoinWeek, October 29th

We've always expressed our dedication to customer service, and the new e-Commerce website's performance during one of the year's most highly anticipated product launches is proof of that commitment.” The Mint, which is one the country's top 100 online ...Read more

50th Anniversary Kennedy Silver Coin Collection Release
Silver Coins Today (blog), October 27th

Of the four silver coins, two include specialized finishes — the 2014-W Reverse Proof Kennedy Silver Half-Dollar and the 2014-S Enhanced Uncirculated Kennedy Silver Half-Dollar. The reverse proof coin showcases mirror-like raised elements with a...Read more

CannabisCoin Lights Up Premined Coins via Proof of Burn
CryptoCoinsNews, October 25th

cannabis coin lightingup Earlier this week, BitcoinTalk users began raising questions about premined CannabisCoins that remained unallocated. In response to the controversy, CannabisCoin developer DeltaNine burned the coins to an unspendable ...Read more

The Coin Analyst: Kennedy Half Dollar 50th Anniversary Silver Set Mintage ...
CoinWeek, October 24th

First, they include the first and only enhanced uncirculated and reverse proof coins in the series. Second, they are the only silver coins since the inaugural 1964 coin to use the original sculpt of President Kennedy. These aspects sets these coins...Read more

2014-W Proof American Platinum Eagle Coin Available
CoinNews.net, October 20th

2014-W Proof American Platinum Eagle Coins for collectors are now available. They may be ordered directly from the United States Mint at catalog.usmint.gov for $1,600. Thanks to falling precious metals, the price is $200 less than when last year's coin ...Read more

The Coin Analyst - World Coins Edition: Libertad Proof Sets and Interview with ...
CoinWeek, October 16th

Last month, I discussed the extensive delays at the Mexican Mint (Casa de Moneda) with respect to production of the Libertad proof coins and sets. The much-anticipated 7-coin proof set in a wooden box with a numbered certificate of authenticity has...Read more

Perth Mint Releases Chinese Ancient Mythical Creatures 5oz Silver Proof Coin
Coin Update News, September 30th

The obverse design of the coin features the Ian Rank-Broadley effigy of Queen Elizabeth II with the 2014 date and denomination. The coins are issued as Tuvalu legal tender. Each coin is struck in 99.9% pure silver to proof quality with portions gilded...Read more