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    

1939 Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Pr67 Rainbow Toned~colorful Toning~super Gem Proof2015-p U.s Marshals Service Anni Proof Silver Dollar Ngc Pf70 First Day Of Issue2014-w 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar Gold Proof Coin  jfk 24k Us Mint Nr!1870 Pcgs Seated Liberty Half Dollar Proof Pcgs Pr 64 ** Remarkably Toned!1884 Seated Half Dollar Ngc Proof 62 A Superb Example !!!Bright Original Boxed 1954 U S Mint Proof Set 90% Silver 50, 25,10 Lot 30342015 S Clad Us Marshals 225th Anniversary 50c Proof Ngc Pf70 First Day Issue2012 Genuine Us Mint Presidential Dollars (4 Coin) Proof Set1953 United States Mint Proof Set; Superb Gem In Box 100% Original W/ Some CameoSingle Finest Graded 1968 S Pcgs Pr67bn Gem Rainbow Toned Proof Lincoln Cent1937 Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny Proof, Beautiful Red Proof! ** Free Shipping!Choice Proof 1868 U.s. Seated Liberty Half Dollar 50c Silver Coin - Low Mintage!1873 Arrows 25c Proof Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Pcgs Pr64 Cam Cameo1910 Matte Proof Lincoln Cent Pcgs Pr64rb Cac Sticker1878 Seated Half Dollar High Grade Proof-like Or Proof1912 Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny, Rare Matte Proof, ** Free Shipping!2015-p U.s Marshals Service Anni Proof Silver Dollar Ngc Pf70 First Day Of IssueU.s. Mint 2012 S Silver Proof Coin Set 14 Piece Coin Set W/ Box Coa 1874 Pcgs Pr65 Cam Three Cent Nickel 3cn Proof 1892 Indian Head Penny Proof, Stunning Red Gem Pf! ** Deep Red Mirrors!1940 Lincoln Cent Wheat Penny, Brilliant Red Gem Proof, ** Free Shipping!1888 25c Proof Seated Liberty Quarter Dollar Pcgs Pr65 Cam Cameo1871 Seated Liberty Dollar, Impressive Pq Proof, ** Only 960 Issued!1878 Morgan Dollar 8tf Ms 62 Deep Mirror Proof-like Ngc Top 100 Hot Lips Vam 23 Huge Mixed Lot (50) Rare Coins All Silver - Dollars + Halves Ngc Pcgs Proof 1963 Pcgs Pr67 Superb Gem Colorful Toned Proof Washington Quarter1964 Us Proof Set W Kennedy Half Dollar W Accented Hair Variety W Orig Envelope 1861 Seated Dime Pcgs Proof 63Rare Old United States 1950 Proof Set 5 P Silver Proof Coins Uncirculated !1894 Indian Head Penny Proof, Gorgeous Proof! ** Free Shipping!1962 Washington Quarter Roll 90% Silver Gem Proof 40 Us Coins1878 Morgan Dollar 8tf Ms 62 Proof-like Ngc Top 100 Hot Lips Vam 23 Toned Obv2012-s Us Proof Set 14 Piece With Original Mint Packaging1994 U.s. Veterans Commemorative Silver Proof Dollars 3 Coin Set - W/coa,no Box 1904 Barber Dime, Impressive Gem Proof, Only 670 Pieces Issued ** Free Shipping!1868 P Quarter Eagle Proof Like Cameo No Wear Scarce Date1881 Three Cent Nickel Ngc Proof 65 CameoScarcer Ngc 1953 50c Proof Franklin Half Dollar Ngc Pf67 Nicer Find * No Reserve1878 Three Cent Nickel Proof Pcgs Pr641950 Proof Set.U.s. Mint 2013 S Silver Proof Coin Set 14 Piece Coin Set W/ Box Coa 2015 S Silver Proof Set 90% Silver Deep Cameo Mint Fresh Presale Complete Boxcoa1877-s T$1 Trade Dollar Choice Aunc Mirrored Fields / Proof Like - Rare1964 Washington Quarter Roll 90% Silver Gem Proof 40 Us CoinsRoll Of 40 2000 Proof U.s. Mixed 90% Silver Quarters U.s. Mint 2012 S Proof Coin Set 14 Piece Coin Set With Box And Coa2014 P Silver Proof Kennedy Half Ngc Pf70 Uc Er 50th Anniversary! High Relief!World War Ii 1991-95-w Pcgs Proof 70 Pr70 Dcam Silver Dollar - No Toning!Junk Drawer Lot Of Coins Proof & Mints Set Canada Us Coin Collection Wow Look1955 Us Proof Set In "flat-pack" Mint Packaging - 6p61Proof Sets Special (1955 Proof Set) Low Combined Shipping2014 W Silver Reverse Proof Kennedy Half Ngc Pf70 Er 50th Anniversary! 1909 -1994 Lincoln Cent Collection Not Compete Some Rare Key Many Bu Unc ProofNational Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Commem Coin Proof Silver Dollar W/ CoaGem 1956 Us Mint 90% Silver Proof Set In Government Package Flat Pack No Reserve2013 United States Mint Silver Proof Set2015-s 25c National Parks - Silver Dc (proof) Complete Set Mint Fresh! 1940 Jefferson Nickel, Pq Gem Proof, ** Free Shipping!1994-p $1 Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo American (proof Silver Eagle) - Pr70!!! Rare .999 Rr1891 Seated Liberty Dime Proof, Superb Gem Cameo Pf! ** Only 600 Struck!

Recent News: US Proof Coins

Source: Google News

US Mint Sales Report: 2015 ATB Quarters Silver Proof Set Debuts
Coin Update News, February 24th

Compared to the previous week, sales of the $5 gold coins for the program showed an increase, while sales of the remaining products showed decreases. The three coin proof set is close to reaching the product limit with cumulative sales of 13,902 from a ...Read more

2015 America the Beautiful Quarters Proof Set Photos, February 23rd

Nearly everyone likes proof coins, making sets of them popular. Struck at the United States Mint in San Francisco, they're more attractive than regular circulating coins minted in Denver and Philadelphia. Proof finishes present sharp frosted designs...Read more

2015 America the Beautiful Quarters in Silver Proof Set, February 20th

Outer packaging of 2015 America the Beautiful Quarters Silver Proof Set includes photographic images of the sites depicted by the coins within. To the left is a view of the front of the set's packaging. To the right is a view of its back. The five...Read more

Coin Profiles – Finest Known Gem Proof 1839-O Half Dollar
CoinWeek, February 16th

Even a casual glance at this piece will confirm that it is something special and well beyond the ordinary for a Capped Bust, Reeded Edge half dollar. The surfaces shimmer with a satin to semi-reflective finish as the coin rotates under a light, the...Read more

Mint to issue another Reverse Proof coin
Coin World, February 12th

William T. Gibbs, senior editor, news, joined the Coin World editorial staff in 1976 and serves as chief copy editor for all Coin World publications while directing weekly editorial production aspects. The collector of numismatic items relating to Adm...Read more

2015 America the Beautiful Quarters Released in Proof Set, February 3rd

Each America the Beautiful Quarter is struck at least twice to maximize the detail and impart a proof finish where frosted designs attractively contrast against mirror-like backgrounds. The production site for these high-quality proof coins is the U.S...Read more

2015 Quarters, Truman $1s, Marshals Coins; Popular News, February 1st

On Tuesday, the U.S. Mint will introduce its five-coin 2015 America the Beautiful Quarters Proof Set for $14.95, and then on Thursday it will launch 2015 Harry S. Truman Presidential $1 Coins in rolls and bags at prices ranging from $32.95 to $111.95...Read more

First-Day Coin Sales Net $1 Million For Museum
Times Record, January 30th

The biggest seller on Thursday was the silver dollar coin that features an old-time western Marshal holding a “Wanted in Fort Smith” poster. The US Mint reported selling 34,257 silver “proof” and “uncirculated” coins. The Mint also sold 21,861 copper...Read more