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    

2015 S America The Beautiful Silver Proof Quarters Set Ngc Pf70 Early Releases2015 S America The Beautiful Silver Proof Quarters Set Ngc Pf70 Early Releases2015 S America The Beautiful Silver Proof Quarters Set Ngc Pf70 Early Releases2015 S America The Beautiful Silver Proof Quarters Set Ngc Pf70 Early Releases1878 8tf Morgan Silver Dollar Proof, Ultra Rare Superb Gem Pf++ * Just 500 Made!2015 Harry S Truman Coin And Chronicles Set With Reverse Proof Dollar2015 S Nickel .5 Ngc Pf70 Ultra Cameo Early Releases 14-coin Silver Proof Set1941 Unopened Box Proof Set Rare Rare!!!!1877 P Double Eagle $20 Gold Ms Proof Like Pl Very Deep Mirrors 2014-p Us Baseball Proof Silver $1 - Pcgs Pr70 Hof Label First Strike Hank Aaron1883-s Morgan Silver Dollar, Ultra Proof-like Gem Bu++ Better Date, Deep Mirrors1895 Proof Barber Dime Anacs Pf-64 (proof 64) - See The Photos! Only 880 Minted1890 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Proof Igc Pr60 - Only 1260 Minted! Mirrors!1868 Ngc Graded Proof 63 Silver Three Cent Piece2012 Us Mint Silver Proof Set With 14 Coins Complete With Box & Coa Unopened1972 S Pcgs Pr67dcam Superb Gem Rainbow Toned Silver Proof Eisenhower Dollar1879 Morgan Silver Dollar Proof, Tougher Sharp Gem Pf++, Only 1100 Issued!Harry Truman & Dwight Eisenhower Coin And Chronicle Set(s) / Reverse Proof 2015-p $1 Harry S. Truman Reverse Proof Chronicles Set Sealed From Mint2015 Harry S Truman Coin And Chronicles Set With Reverse Proof Dollar (item Ax1)1868 Seated Liberty Dime Proof Graded Pr60 By Anacs! Rare 600 Mintage!2015 Reverse Proof Eisenhower Coin & Chronicles Dollar Medal Set Ngc Pf 69 Ms 692012 Us Mint Proof Set 14 Coin Set Complete With Coa And Box As Shown In Photos2015 W P Special Silver March Of Dimes 3 Coin Proof Set Reverse Dime Dm5 Dollar 1938 Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny Proof, Beautiful Red Superb Gem Pf++! ** Free S/h!1956 -1964 U.s. Proof Sets In Album. (45 Coins)2012 United States Mint Proof Set1973 S $1 Silver Ike Eisenhower Dollar Proof Pcgs Pr69dcam1888-s Morgan Silver Dollar, Better Date, Tough In Ms Condition ** Proof-like!1876 Seated Liberty Half Dollar Proof Graded Genuine By Pcgs! Rare Low Mintage!Key Date! 1915 Barber Quarter Proof Icg Pr60 - Rarest & Lowest Mintage Of 450!1956 & 1957 Sealed Proof Sets 90% Silver Coins From The Us Mint #2161971 S Pcgs Pr66dcam Gem Rainbow Toned Silver Proof Eisenhower Dollar1878 Cc Morgan Silver Dollar-proof Like-carson City (1)Run Of Sixteen (16) United States Silver Proof Sets. Complete As Issued W/coa's2012-s Us Mint Silver Proof Set1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 U.s. Mint Proof Sets In Original Packaging.1955 U.s. Mint Proof Coin Set2012 U.s. Limited Edition Silver Proof Set !! Light Toning! (only 50,000 Minted)2015 March Of Dimes Special Silver 3 Coin Set Ogp Reverse W Proof Dime In HandSealed 1956 Proof Set 5 Coins From The Us Mint Excellent Packaging #2091889 3 Cent Piece Coin Proof Pf 60 Certified Anacs Key Date Graded No Reserve1880-o Morgan Silver Dollar, Beautiful Gem Bu++ Proof-like Better Date!2015 Coin And Chronicles Set - Dwight D. Eisenhower - Reverse Proof $1 And Medal2015 U.s. Mint Annual Coin And Currency Set Dwight Eisenhower Reverse Proof Ike 1882 Seated Liberty Dime Proof-toned-reflective Mirrors- 1100 Mintage!1938 Washington Quarter Proof, Blast White Superb Gem Pf++ ** Free Shipping!Sealed 1956 Proof Set 5 Coins From Us Mint Excellent Packaging #2242012-s Sacagawea Native American Dollar Pr70dcam Pcgs Proof 70 Deep Cameo2000 Thru 2012 Us Mint Silver Proof Sets1938 Walking Liberty Half Dollar Proof, Exquisite Superb Gem Pf++ * Deep Mirrors1858-p Seated Liberty Quarter Proof Gem Of A Proof2012 Us Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof Set - Original Packaging & Coa2015 Coin & Chronicles Set - Harry S. Truman 17,000 Ax1 Reverse Proof (read!)2015 Dwight D. Eisenhower Coin And Chronicle Set With Reverse Proof Dollar1897 Liberty Nickel, Proof V Nickel, Impressive Superb Gem Pf++ * Free Shipping!1891 Proof Seated Liberty Dime Pcgs Pr62cam (cameo!) Mintage Only 600, Photos!2015 Reverse Proof Eisenhower Coin & Chronicles Dollar Medal Set Ngc Pf 69 Ms 692012 Us Mint Silver Proof Set 14 Coins1953 Us Treasury Department Uncirculated 5 Coin Proof Set Unopened

Recent News: US Proof Coins

Source: Google News

2012 American Eagle San Francisco Two-Coin Silver Proof Set History
Coin World, August 22nd

Ron Drzewucki has been a professional numismatist since 1984 and a member of Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) since 1995. He has for years been a dealer "known as having a superb eye for coins" and "has the experience and discriminating eye to ...Read more

Proof that buying one of Australia's rarest coins will cost a pretty penny, August 22nd

Three of the six 1930 proof pennies are privately owned, with one in Melbourne and two in Sydney. The other three are located in the British Museum, the Museum of Victoria and the Art Gallery of South Australia. The coin was displayed under tight...Read more

Proof vs. Mint State Coins
Coin World, August 20th

Ron Drzewucki has been a professional numismatist since 1984 and a member of Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) since 1995. He has for years been a dealer "known as having a superb eye for coins" and "has the experience and discriminating eye to ...Read more

Reverse Proof Coins Are Good for the Hobby
Coin World, August 19th

Louis Golino has been a collector of American and world coins since childhood and has written about coins since 2009. In addition to writing about modern coins and other numismatic issues for Coin World, he also writes for American Hard Assets magazine ...Read more

Australia 2015 Wedge-Tailed Eagle 1 Dollar Proof Silver Coin
CoinWeek (blog), August 18th

The Perth Mint's Wedge-Tailed Eagle one-dollar coin debuted in 2014 and was issued in gold and in silver 1 oz (proof and mint state) and 5 oz (proof) finishes. The design was reprised in 2015 and according to Perth spokesperson Makeila Ellis, the...Read more

Australia 2015 Mother of Pearl Shell 1oz Silver Proof Coin
CoinWeek (blog), August 13th

Struck by The Perth Mint from 1oz of 99.9% pure silver in proof quality, the coin is issued as legal tender under the Australian Currency Act 1965. No more than 3,000 of the 2015 Australian White Mother of Pearl Shell 1oz Silver Coin will be released...Read more

Coin Profile – Matte Proof 1937 Boone Half Dollar Set
CoinWeek (blog), August 12th

The production of these coins was not recorded by the Mint, and their existence was once unknown to many researchers. In his Proof Encyclopedia, Walter Breen cites “rumors” of the possible existence of matte proof Roanoke and Antietam half dollars of...Read more

Proof Gold Coins – 1858 Proof Liberty Half Eagle – Finest of 5 known
CoinWeek (blog), August 7th

Heritage Auctions is offering an interesting collection of 30 Proof $5 Half Eagles from the Trompeter Collection. This Coin – Lot 4348 in Heritages 2015 ANA Signature Sale # 1223 should be the highlight of this selection of coins as evidenced by the...Read more