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    

1875 Trade Dollar, Stunning Very Tough Gem Proof, A Mere 700 Pieces Issued!1876 Twenty Cent Piece, Remarkable Choice Gem Proof, Watery Reflective Surfaces!1954 Us Proof Set ~ Unopened Box ~ Rare Unopened Proof Coins ~ 1954 1878 Seated Liberty Dime, Scarce Proof, A Mere 800 Pieces Issued, ** Free S/h!1953 Us Proof Set ~ Unopened Box ~ Rare Unopened Proof Coins ~ 1953 2013 W American Buffalo Reverse Proof, First Strike, Gold Coin Pr 70 By Pcgs! Gold Coin & Silver 1993 Bill Of Rights Commemorative Coins Three-coin Proof Set2014-w 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar Gold Proof Coin  jfk 24k Us Mint Nr!1902 Morgan Silver Dollar, Seldom Seen Choice Proof, Just 777 Issued!2015 W Proof Silver Eagle $1 Florida Fun Show ~ First Strike ~ Pcgs Pf 70 DcamSealed In Box 1955 Proof Set....super!!!!!!!!!2012 United States Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof Set2013 American Buffalo One Ounce Gold Reverse Proof Coin1880 Seated Half Dollar Extremely High Grade Proof-like Example1889 Liberty Nickel, Exquisite Solid Gem V Nickel Proof, ** Low Mintage!1895 Barber Half Dollar, Pq Proof, Only 880 Pieces Made, ** Free Shipping!1875 Twenty Cent Piece Very Rare Proof Beautiful Philadelphia Mint Coin2012 United States Mint Silver Proof Set 14 Coins1884 Seated Half Dollar Ngc Proof 62 A Superb Example !!!2013 (8) Coin United States Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof Set2000 $100 Ben Franklin .999 Silver Proof 4 Oz Bill Bar2000 Leif Ericson Millennium Us & Icelandic 2 Coin Proof Silver Dollar Set2012 Limited Edition Silver Proof Set2012 S-us Mint Silver Proof Set-14 Coins-proof Condition2012-s 50c Silver Dc (proof) Kennedy Half Dollar Graded Perfect 70 Scarce Key ~2000-w $100 Platinum * Pcgs Pr70 Dcam Proof * Eagle Dollar $2,750++ Pop Only 2032011-w $5 Proof Medal Of Honor Five Dollar Gold Coin1896 Indian Head Penny, Beautiful Red Proof, * Flashy Surfaces W/ Unique Toning!2011-p Medal Of Honor Silver Dollar Pcgs Proof-70 Dcam - Perfect Grade2012 United States Mint Presidential $1 Coin Proof Set1992 Us Olympics Baseball & Gymnast Two-coin Silver Dollar & Clad Half Proof Set1870 25c J-914 Bn (proof) Pattern Coin Pcgs Pf631893 Barber Quarter, Stunning Solid Gem Proof, Only 792 Made ** Free Shipping!2014 Five Dollar Gold Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof Curved CoinUs Mint Proof Sets - Lot Of 53 SetsStar Cam! 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Proof In Stunning Pf68*cameo! B&w Obverse! 1953 United States Proof Set Coins1883 Liberty Nickel, No Cents V Nickel Proof, Stunning Solid Gem Pf! ** Free Shi2015 $1 Silver Eagle First Strike Pcgs Pr-70 Presale Includes Box And Coa Proof2011 United States Mint Proof Set W/ Certificate Of Authenticity1976 S Pcgs Pr70dcam Proof Silver Kennedy Half Dollar Pr702014 W Baseball Hall Of Fame *curved* Gold $5 Commem Coin Ngc Graded Proof 69 Er1897-s Morgan Silver Dollar, Ultra Proof-like Gem W/ Nice Deep Mirrors!1862 Seated Liberty Quarter Proof, No Motto, Great Proof Reflectivity!2012 United States Mint Silver Proof Set1902 Indian Head Penny Proof, Flashy Red Proof Surfaces! ** Free Shipping!1883 10c Liberty Seated Dime Choice Proof 1964 Proof Set With Accented Hair Kennedy Half Dollar - Sealed In Mint Plastic2012 Us Mint Proof Set2000 S Proof Set Original Box & Coa 10 Coins 90% Silver Quarters Kennedy Us Mint1885-cc Morgan Silver Dollar - Pcgs Ms61pl (proof Like) 7161.61/28355267 *no ResNgc Pf 66 1950 Franklin Half Dollar Proof C13592014 W Baseball Hall Of Fame *curved* Gold $5 Commem. Coin Ngc Graded Proof 70!1889 Indian Head Penny, Flashy Red Proof! ** Free Shipping!1893 Liberty Nickel Ngc Pf63 Proof! Noblespirit No Reserve 3687/96 Deluxe Cased Everything Gem Bu & Proof Set2013 S Us Mint Silver Proof 14 Coin Set. Nice Set2014-p National Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof Silver Dollar 2014-s Early Releases High Relief Kennedy Silver Ngc Sp70 Pl Enhanced Proof LikeRare 1993-p 5-coin Proof Gold & Silver Eagle Philadelphia Set (w/box & Coa)

Recent News: US Proof Coins

Source: Google News

2015 Proof Silver Eagle Coins Outpace other Silver Product Sales
Silver Coins Today (blog), January 22nd

2015-W Proof American Silver Eagle Coins sharply out-paced sales of all other numismatic silver products combined, U.S. Mint weekly sales charts show. In all, buyers picked up 20,275 proof Silver Eagles compared to just 4,675 in other silver products...Read more

Coin Profile – 1843 Proof Quarter Eagle, only five known
CoinWeek, January 21st

Before the Mint began its program of commercial proof set offerings in 1858, only a handful of proofs were struck each year to satisfy the needs of influential Treasury officials or well-connected collectors. Proof gold coins of the pre-1858 era are...Read more

US Mint 2015 Gift Sets for Newborns and Birthdays, January 16th

These proof coins are not unique to these two sets, but they will not be available in another collectible product until the 14-coin 2015 Proof Set goes on sale in March. Both gift sets also have one 2015-dated America the Beautiful Quarter. There are...Read more

US Mint Sales: Gold Coins Jump, 2015 Proof Silver Eagle Timid, January 15th

New U.S. Mint sales figures show stronger sales of gold coins and, unexpectedly, rather timid gains for the 2015-W Proof American Silver Eagle during its first full week of release. Sales of the 2015 Proof Silver Eagle started on Jan. 2 with orders...Read more

Australian Opal Series 2015 Rough-Scaled Python Silver Proof Coin
Coin Update News, January 7th

The Perth Mint has started accepting orders for the seventh coin within the eight-coin Australian Opal series, which features nocturnal animals crafted in pure Australian opal. Previous releases within the series have featured the Koala, Wombat...Read more

2015 Proof Silver Eagle Photos and Debut Sales, January 6th

The 2013 coin kicked off with sales at 258,860, which also included another day in the reporting period. The 2012 coin notched sales of 299,539 in five days. The 2011 coin opened at 367,623 through the first six days. The 2010 coin started at 273,212 ...Read more

2015-W Proof American Silver Eagle Launches, January 2nd

It's the best of the best. There's no better seller for the United States Mint, and it's available early for less. Today, the Mint introduced its annually issued proof American Silver Eagle for $48.95. That's $4 cheaper and three weeks earlier than...Read more

2015 Proof Silver Eagle for New Year and Popular News, December 28th

It'll be another short week of coin news, with New Years coming up and most of the world mints taking a break from releases until next week. U.S. coin collectors can look forward to Friday's release from the U.S. Mint of their 2015 Proof American...Read more