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    

2014 P Us Mint Silver Dollar Baseball Hall Of Fame Ngc Pf69 Proof Reggie Jackson2014 P Us Mint Silver Dollar Baseball Hall Of Fame Ngc Pf69 Proof Reggie Jackson2014-w 1964-2014 Kennedy Half Dollar 50th Anniversary Gold Proof Coin Ngc Pf702014 W 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-dollar Gold Proof Coin (k15) Us-mint 2014 Baseball Hall Of Fame Hof Proof $5 Gold Coin In Us Mint Sealed Box2000-w Library Of Congress $10 Ngc Proof 70 Dcam (bimetallic) Gorgeous2014 W Pcgs Pr70dcam Proof Baseball Hall Of Fame Hof $5 Gold Coin Pr70 2013 American Buffalo Reverse Proof One Ounce Pure .9999 Gold $50 Coin Box & Coa1882-s Half Eagle, $5 Gold Liberty, Proof-like, ** Free Shipping!1950 Us Silver Proof Set Gem Silver Coins & Full Red Gem Cent Free Ship2014 W 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-dollar Gold Proof Coin (k15) Us-mint Proof Like Carson City Cac Morgan Dollar Fresh Just In 1883-cc Pcgs Ms 64 Pl2014-w 50th Anniversary Gold Kennedy Half Dollar Proof Pcgs Pr69dcam *no Reserve2014-w 1964-2014 Kennedy Half Dollar 50th Anniversary Gold Proof Coin Ngc Pf702014 W National Baseball Hall Of Fame Mint Gold Proof Five Dollar CoinNgc Pf 65 1950 Proof Franklin Half Dollar (327-001)1939 P Proof Lincoln Wheat Cent Ngc Graded Pf66 Rd Red Beautiful High Grade1939 P Reverse Of 38 Proof Jefferson Nickel Ngc Graded Pf66 High Grade1964 Accent Hair Kennedy Half Dollar Proof Ngc Pf68 Rare1940 P Proof Silver Walking Liberty Half Dollar Ngc Graded Pf652012-s Us Mint Silver Proof Set (100611)2014-w National Baseball Hall Of Fame Hof Proof $5 Gold Coin (b31) From Us Mint2011 P Ngc Pf70 Reverse Proof 25th Aniversary Set Silver Eagle Coin 1941 P Proof Silver Mercury Dime Ngc Graded Pf66 High Grade2014 W 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half-dollar Gold Proof Coin Us-mint2012 Us Mint ***silver*** Proof Set 14 Coins With Box & Coa1878 7/8 Tf Morgan Silver Dollar Gem Uncirculated Tone & Deep Mirror Proof Like1939 P Proof Silver Mercury Dime Ngc Graded Pf67 High Grade1895 Liberty Or V Nickel Gem Proof 100% Original Coin 2013 Us Mint Silver Proof Set Sv8 (brand New) - Sold Out !!!!2013-s Us Mint Silver Proof Set (100612)1988 W 1 Oz $50 Proof Gold Eagle Ngc Pf70 Ultra Cameo1986-s Pcgs Pr70 Dcameo Proof Silver Eagle - Pf 70! Rare: Registry Set 1oz1894 S Morgan Dollar Key Date Proof Like White Coin 100% Original Beautiful 1892 Indian Head Cent Ngc Proof 65 Reb Brown1986-s * Pcgs Pr70 Dcam Proof * Silver Eagle American $1 Dollar * First Year !!!Proof Like Carson City Cac Morgan Dollar Fresh Just In 1882-cc Pcgs Gsa Ms 62 Pl1940 P Proof Silver Mercury Dime Ngc Graded Pf66 High Grade1964 Pcgs Proof 69 Cameo Silver Kennedy Half! Great Cameo Contrast!! 1964 Ah Ca (proof) Kennedy Half Dollar; Ngc Graded Pf66 Cameo Accented Hair!!!!!1939 P Proof Silver Washington Quarter Ngc Graded Pf67 High Grade2014 P National Baseball Hall Of Fame Proof Curved Silver Dollar 1940 P Proof Lincoln Wheat Cent Ngc Graded Pf65 Rd Red Beautiful High Grade2014-w National Baseball Hall Of Fame Hof Proof $5 Gold Coin (b31) From Us Mint2014-w National Baseball Hall Of Fame Hof Proof $5 Gold Coin From Us Mint1877 Seated Liberty Quarter, Cameo Proof ** Free Shipping!1987 Us Constitution Coins 2 Coin Proof Mint Set - $5 Gold & $1 Silver With Coa1878-cc Morgan Silver Dollar Gem Uncirculated Deep Mirror Proof Like Frost Field1896 * Ngc Ms64 Dpl Dmpl Proof Like * Silver Morgan Dollar * $600++ Frosty White2014-p National Baseball Hall Of Fame Hof Proof Silver Dollar $1 Pcgs Pr70dcam1883 Ngc Liberty Nickel Proof, "no Cents" V Nickel ** Free Shipping!1992-w Us White House Commem Proof Silver $1 Pcgs Pr69 Signed By President Bush2013 Us Mint Silver Proof Set 90% Parks Quarters Kennedy - (ogp) 14 Coins2014-w National Baseball Hall Of Fame Hof Proof $5 Gold Coin From Us Mint2014 U.s. Mint Silver Proof Set With All Coins & 2014 Silver Proof Quarter Set1941 P Proof Silver Washington Quarter Ngc Graded Pf66 High Grade2014-w National Baseball Hall Of Fame Hof Proof $5 Gold Coin (b31) From Us Mint1894 Morgan Silver Dollar - Proof - ** Ngc Certified Pf 58 **1884-cc Morgan Silver Dollar $1 Ms 64 Pl Proof Like PcgsCoin Lot Old Us Coins Morgan Silver Dollar Proof Set Gold Silver Graded Coa Nr!

Recent News: US Proof Coins

Source: Google News

American Silver Eagle Production at West Point Mint
CoinNews.net, September 19th

This article with photos and videos discusses the production and packaging of bullion American Silver Eagles at the West Point Mint. On our recent visit to the United States Mint at West Point, my brother Mike and I were given the opportunity to...Read more

Too many proof sets create buyer confusion
NumisMaster.com, September 11th

“I'll have customers come in and ask about buying a proof set and I'll say 'Which one?,'” said John Krupka, owner of Point Coin, Stevens Point, Wis. “There's the 14-coin clad proof set, the 14-coin silver proof set, the Presidential dollar proof set...Read more

US Mint to stop 2014 platinum Eagle coin sales after Oct 1
Reuters, September 8th

While the Mint makes the cheaper, less polished American Eagle platinum bullion coins for investors, it also makes the higher-premium platinum Eagle proof coins that undergo a specialized minting process targeting collectors. The U.S. Mint will...Read more

2014 Superman Coins Depict Timeless DC Comics' Covers
CoinNews.net, September 4th

On this one-ounce silver proof coin, Superman takes flight, with his fists clenched and his determined grin showing. He appears in his classic blue costume with yellow and red S-shield. The image was taken from Action Comics #419 which hit store...Read more

Australian Lunar 2015 Year of the Goat Gold and Silver Proof Coins
Coin Update News, September 2nd

The Perth Mint has started accepting orders for their first numismatic products to celebrate the upcoming Year of the Goat. The gold and silver proof quality coins are issued under the Australian Lunar Series II and are available across an array of...Read more

Bitcoin's Future: Proof-of-stake vs Proof-of-work
CryptoCoinsNews, August 30th

The proof-of-work (POW) system used by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies fails to create an incentive for miners to hold onto their coins. That means that as much as 3,600 BTC may be sold per day to pay for electricity and rent, alone. The mined...Read more

US Mint Sales Report: Kennedy Gold Proof Coin Sales Turns Negative
Coin Update News, August 27th

kennedy-proof The latest weekly United States Mint numismatic sales report includes updated numbers for the 50th Anniversary Kennedy Half Dollar products. As the cumulative sales for the uncirculated coin set have continued to grow, the sales for the...Read more

2014 Baseball Silver Dollar Sales Changed, First Move in 4 Months
CoinNews.net, August 20th

Issued in $5 gold, silver dollar and 50c clad and in proof and uncirculated finishes, the commemorative coins celebrate the diamond anniversary of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The $5 gold coins sold out within 24 hours of launching and the...Read more