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.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
Legendary Coins and Currency
Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors
Clubs & Associations
- Society of U.S. Pattern Collectors
- American Numismatic Association
- American Numismatic Society
- Numismatic Bibliomania Society
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: US Proof Coins
Source: Google News
The Inevitable Failure of Proof-of-Stake Blockchains and Why a New Algorithm ...CoinTelegraph, May 24th
I am all for working together, but when it comes to mining a cryptocurrency, only one person can mine a new block at a time; if you attempt to split the reward for mining a new block among multiple miners through the blockchain, you need some proof of...Read more
2015 Silver Proof Set Photos and Starting SalesCoinNews.net, May 20th
2015 Silver Proof Set Photo. This photo of the 2015 Silver Proof Set shows everything that comes with it — the outer carton, the 14 proof coins in their three protective plastic lenses and a U.S. Mint certificate of authenticity. Annually issued since...Read more
United States Mint Releases 2015 Silver Proof SetCoin Update News, May 15th
United States Mint proof coins are struck in a process through which specially treated, polished, and cleaned blanks are fed into presses fitted with specially polished dies and struck at least twice to ensure sharp relief. The resulting coins feature...Read more
2015 Silver Proof Set from San Francisco MintCoinNews.net, May 14th
Also, proof coins are collector favorites because they have sharper reliefs, mirror-like backgrounds and attractive frosted foregrounds. Greater care is taken in making proofs. The U.S. Mint polishes the blanks, polishes the dies, presses the coins...Read more
Reverse Proofs for 2015 Coin & Chronicles SetsCoinNews.net, May 8th
Here are two photos of a FDR Presidential silver medal (obverse and reverse), one of the collectibles in last year's Franklin D. Roosevelt Coin and Chronicles Set. This year's sets will have similar medals, plus special reverse proof dollars in their...Read more
The Royal Mint's £80 Princess Charlotte coin 'worth £9.72'Telegraph.co.uk, May 6th
The Royal Mint explained: "The dies used to strike Proof coins are all hand-finished to ensure imperfections are removed before they are used to strike a coin. Proof coins will be struck up to six times, at a lower speed and with less pressure than...Read more
Perth Mint Releases Star Trek: The Next Generation Silver Proof CoinsCoin Update News, May 5th
The Perth Mint of Australia has released the latest coins within the series which features famous captains and starships from Star Trek. The latest coins feature Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D. Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek...Read more
2015 Reverse Proof Coin Releases to Keep Collectors BusyCoinWeek (blog), May 4th
It seems the United States Mint knows a good thing when they see it, because now there's news of yet more Reverse Proof coin sets due for release later this year. The 2015 Coin and Chronicles Sets featuring Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F...Read more