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    

1893-cc Morgan Silver Dollar Uncirculated Blast White! Pq++ Semi Proof Like1961 Washington Qtr Pcgs Pr65 Super Rainbow Toned Proof~colorful Toning~color1900 Barber Quarter, Proof, ** Only 912 Pieces Struck!1970-s Ld Lincoln Cent Pcgs Pr67rb Rainbow Toned Proof~colorful Toning~ Color1878-cc Morgan Silver Dollar Gem Uncirculated Deep Mirror Proof Like Frost Field1910 Liberty V Nickel, Proof, ** Low Mintage! ** Free Shipping!Huge Us Coin And Paper Money Collection-silver-proof Sets-errors-no ReserveGem Proof Libertas Americana Gold Medal - Paris Mint Restrike2014-w Baseball Hall Of Fame Gold $5 Fs Pcgs Proof-70 Dcam Andre Dawson Signed 1882 Indian Head Penny, Proof ** Free Shipping!1890-s Morgan Silver Dollar Gem Uncirculated Blast White! Deep Mirror Proof Like1898-o Morgan Silver Dollar Gem Uncirculated Blast White Deep Mirror Proof Like1884 Seated Liberty Quarter, Tough Proof, ** A Mere 875 Pieces Minted! *free S/h2012-s Us Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof 8 Coin Set No Reserve1883 Proof Morgan Silver Dollar Pcgs Pr62. 1,039 Minted, Only 290 Survive Today!1961 Jefferson Nickel Pcgs Pr67 Rainbow Toned Gem Proof ~colorful Toning~color**now Here! 1- 2014-w Gold Proof $5 Coin(b31) Nat Baseball Hall Of Fame+coa-gift1874 Trade Dollar Proof ** Ultra Rare Proof! ** Free Shipping!2014-p Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof Silver Dollar - Pcgs Pr70dcam First Strike1889-s Morgan Silver Dollar Gem Uncirculated Deep Miror Proof Like Obverse 1887 Deep Mirror Proof Like Morgan Silver Dollar Gem Uncirculated Blast White!1964 Ngc Proof 66 Accent Hair Kennedy Half Dollar$20 Sealed Ike Eisenhower Dollar Bank Roll Silver Morgan Peace Proof Possible 1876 Seated Liberty Half Dollar, Proof ** Just 1,150 Minted!2014-p Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof Silver Dollar First Strike Pcgs Pr70dcam 1870 Seated Liberty Dime, Proof ** Only 1,000 Pieces Struck!1950 Proof Jefferson Nickel Ngc Pf 66~ 2014 Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof $5 Gold Coin In Sealed / Unopened Box ~1904-o Morgan Silver Dollar Gem Uncirculated Blast White Deep Mirror Proof LikeSet Of 25 Ngc Certified Proof And Uncircurculated Dimes, Quarters And Dollars2014 Baseball Hall Of Fame (hof) Proof Gold Commemorative Coin (b31)1880 Cameo Proof Seated Liberty Half Dollar2013 Us Mint Limited Edition Silver Proof SetLot Of (15) Proof Sets 1973, 1976, 1977, 19781886 W/motto Liberty Seated Half Dollar Proof/cameo2014 W Pcgs Pr70dcam Proof Baseball Hall Of Fame Commem Hof $5 Gold Coin 585Silver Dollars; Complete Eisenhower Dollar Set From 1971-1978 32 Coin Proof/bu2014-p,d,s Unopened Baseball Hof All-4 Unc & Proof Half & Silver Dollars Sealed2012 Us Mint Proof Set With Box And Coa2012 Us Mint Proof Set **14 Coins** With Box & Coa2014 P National Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof Silver Dollar Coin W Box/coa In Hand1994-p $1 Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo (proof Silver Eagle) - Pr70!!! Rare .999 1oz Bullion1992 W $5 Gold Columbus Commemorative Proof Pr 69 Dcam Pcgs #01189593d1951 Silver Proof Franklin Half Pcgs Graded Pr662012 Limited Edition Silver Proof Set1959 Us Mint Proof Set **silver** Original Mint Envelope1993-p $1 Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo (proof Silver Eagle) - Pr70!!! Rare .999 1oz Bullion2014 National Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof $5 Gold Coin West Point U.s. Mint1992 W $5 Gold Columbus Commemorative Proof Pr 70 Uc Ngc #01132812d1988-s $1 Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo (proof Silver Eagle) - Pr70!!! Rare 1 Oz Bullion!1951 Franklin Silver Half Dollar 50c Coin Graded Pcgs Pr65 Brilliant Gem Proof1891 Indian Cent Proof Pf 62 Rb Anacs2014 P $1 Silver Dollar Baseball Hall Of Fame Ngc Pf70 Uc Proof * Nolan Ryan *1955 U.s. Mint Proof Set - Original Packaging; No Reserve2011 U S Mint Silver Proof 14 Coin Set Anacs Pf70 Dcam First Day Issue #8 Of 187$20 Sealed Ike Eisenhower Dollar Bank Roll Silver Morgan Peace Proof Possible 1964 P Kennedy Half Accented Hair Us Mint Proof Set 90% Silver2014-s 90% Silver Proof 5 Coin Atb Quarter Set All Ngc Pf 69 Ultra Cameo Proofs2014-w Baseball Hall Of Fame - $5 Gold Proof Coin - With All Ogp And Coa1883 Ngc Liberty Nickel, No Cents, Beautiful V Nickel Proof, Ngc Pf 64 ** Rare!

Recent News: US Proof Coins

Source: Google News

Coin Production at the West Point Mint
Coin Update News, August 1st

Recent special issues have included last year's enhanced uncirculated American Silver Eagle, this year's immensely popular curved Baseball Hall of Fame Gold Coins, and the upcoming reverse proof silver and 24 karat gold Kennedy Half Dollars issued to ...Read more

US Mint Cuts In-Person Kennedy Gold Coin Limit to One, July 31st

This morning, July 31, the United States Mint announced that it is reducing the limit of in-person purchases of dual-dated 1964-2014 Proof 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-Dollar Gold Coins to one from the previously stated two-coin limit. Tom Jurkowsky...Read more

1964-2014 Kennedy Gold Coin to Start at $1240, July 30th

Struck in three-quarters of a troy ounce of .9999 fine, or 24-karat gold, the price for the 2014-W 50th Anniversary Kennedy Gold Coin is based on a London Fix weekly average of gold that sits within the $1,250.00 to $1,299.99 range. The latest weekly...Read more

Ayrton Senna Commemorated With 5 Euro Silver Proof Coin
autoevolution, July 25th

Two decades since that ominous race weekend, when Roland Ratzenberger has also died in a tragic high-speed crash during qualifying, a limited proof coinage has been commissioned to commemorate the passing of Ayrton Senna da Silva. Only 8,000 ...Read more

50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar Two Coin Clad Set
Coin Update News, July 24th

A 3/4 oz 24 karat gold proof coin bearing the dual date of “1964-2014? will be available for purchase on August 5, 2014. A four coin set containing 90% silver coins from different mint facilities and carrying different finishes will be available for...Read more

2013 Proof Set Sells Out, Sales Top Prior Year, July 18th

Last year's set holds 14 clad coins produced to proof quality at the U.S. Mint at San Francisco. These sets are annually issued, and always strong sellers because they have a year's coinage to include the Lincoln cent, Jefferson nickel, Roosevelt dime...Read more

Perth Mint Releases 2014 High Relief Kangaroo Silver Proof Coin
Coin Update News, July 4th

Each coin is struck in 1 troy ounce of 99.9% pure silver to proof quality. The diameter is 32.60 mm with a maximum thickness of 6.00 mm. The coins are packaged in a classic grey display case with an illustrated shipper and accompanied by a numbered ...Read more

Perth Mint Releases 25th Anniversary Australian Kangaroo Gold Proof Coins
Coin Update News, July 3rd

The Perth Mint of Australia has issued a range of gold proof coins to mark the 25th anniversary of the iconic red kangaroo design. The limited mintage coins are available through two individual options as well as a five coin collection containing the...Read more