What are Proof Coins? How They are Made and Why Collect Them

by Chad Eicher

Proof coins

Proof Coins are some of the most exquisite coinage artwork produced. The beautifully smooth, mirrored, clear fields reflect the frosted features of the coin and when well done produce a cameo effect on the coin.

But the term “Proof Coins” does not describe the condition of a coin. It is how the coin is minted.

In the early days of minting the first test of coinage dies were usually used to check for problems and to make sure everything aligned correctly. These coins provided the proof that the dies were correct. After the coins were approved the regular run of minting started.

Today the U.S. Mint regularly produces Proof Coins of the regular coinage meant specifically for coin collectors. Producing Proof Coins is a specialized and time-consuming process. Here is what the U.S. Mint says about producing Proof Coins:

The term “proof” refers to a specialized minting process that begins by manually feeding burnished coin blanks into presses fitted with special dies. Each coin is struck multiple times so the softly frosted, yet detailed images seem to float above a mirror-like field.

So Proof Coins go through a different process to be produced than coins meant for circulation. But what’s the difference then between an uncirculated coin and Proof Coins?

silver american coin

An “Uncirculated Coin” is a coin that was minted for regular business circulation but hasn’t been circulated. It may have bag marks from being tossed around in bags with other coins but hasn’t been subject to the wear and tear of every day use. It is the “condition” of the coin.

Proof Coins are proofs because of the way the are produced.

Proof Coins – The Planchets

Proof Coins utilize specially prepared and polished blank planchets. Planchets for Proof Coins are hand selected. They are then individually polished and cleaned before they are ready for the pressing.

Specially prepared and highly polished dies press the coin’s design into the prepared planchets in order to produce the Proof Coins we all enjoy today.

Proof Coins – The Dies

To produce Proof Coins with all the different finish appearances the dies must be highly crafted. Today’s technology allows the U.s Mint to create dies for Proof Coins with unparalleled details. The technology also provides for the ability to create new types of Proof Coins like the Reverse Proof Coins. Reverse Proof Coins simply reverse the frosted and mirrored portions of the coin. The field is frosted and the design itself becomes mirrored and provides a dramatic cameo effect.

Proof Coins are normally struck more than once to ensure the metal flows into all the parts of the die. Multiple strikes are required for Proof Coins to produce the fine, art like details created by the coins designer. This level of detail doesn’t appear on coins created for circulation.

Each Proof die is closely inspected before use and goes through a special polishing process. They are cleaned or replaced often in order to ensure the design is capable of producing full strikes.

After the Press

Once the new coin comes out of the die it is hand inspected to ensure it has received a full strike and all the details of the design are evident.

Newly minted Proof Coins created by the U.S. Mint are never touched by bare hands ensuring fingerprints and other contaminants are not left on them.

2 copper pennies

The coins are then placed in a plastic container and sonically sealed to keep contaminants out. Unlike vacuum sealing sonically sealing leaves the air inside the container allowing for the coin to tone and age naturally over many years.

The entire process of minting Proof Coins is much slower than producing business issue coinage. The technical checks are extensive to ensure full strikes and clear details of the coins design.

For those interested in collecting modern U.S. Proof Coin Sets this reference volume is packed with information starting with the 1936 release of U.S. Mint Proof Coins sets.

From 1936 to 1942, through the classic years of 1950 to 1964, the Special Mint Sets of 1965 to 1967, modern sets of 1968 to 1998, the 50 State Quarters Proof Sets starting in 1999, and others.

Proof Coins Grading

It’s important to remember that grading Proof Coins is different than grading business strike coins whether they are circulated or uncirculated.

The current grade scale used by the American Numismatic Association (ANA) ranges from PR60 to PR70.

Coins awarded the PR70 grade are virtually flawless. Coins with this grade are extremely rare even with all the care and time given to creating Proof Coins.

PR65 Proof Coins may receive that grade for imperfections visible under a magnifying glass. They will have maintained over the years the original luster imparted by the minting process.

A PR60 grade is given to those Proof Coins that have imperfections visible to the naked eye like scratches. The Proof Coins may also have lost some of the original luster and appear dull.

Proof Coins Collecting

Proof Coins are extremely popular with collectors because of the effort and attention to detail that goes into their creation. As a result of that time and effort Proof Coins are more expensive to produce and command a premium at the time of their sale.

Many older Proof Coins are rare. In the early days of minting, even up to the last century, Proof Coins were only minted in very limited quantities in many cases.

A good example is the 1895 Morgan Proof Coin. No business circulation 1895-P Morgan Dollars were minted but about 880 1895-P Proof Coins were. Only about 80 are known to exist today making them extremely valuable and known as the King Of Morgan Dollars.

Many coin collectors only collect Proof Coins. Each year the U.S. Mint produces its annual Proof Coins sets that contain proof versions of regular circulation coins. The U.S. Mint also produces proof versions of the highly popular American Eagle bullion coin series.

Many commemorative coins are also issued by the U.S. Mint. One of my favorites is the beautiful $50 Buffalo gold coin. It’s a reproduction of the original 1913 Buffalo Nickel in gold and is only created using the Proof Coins process.

Most of these are available directly from the U.S. Mint Website.

Most coin collectors become hooked on Proof Coins when they’ve seen their first Proof Nickel, Quarter or Dime. Beautifully struck Proof Coins are miniature pieces of art. With such clear details and reflective surfaces Proof Coins are wonderful examples of the art of coin minting.

Photo of author

Article by

Chad Eicher

Detectorist Chad is passionate about metal detecting since he got his first metal detector as a gift when he was 12 years old. He created Metal Pursuits to share his knowledge and create the ultimate metal detecting resource on the web.

Subscribe to MP Monthly

Once a month we email detectorists like you with the top tips, insights and best deals to improve your treasure hunting game. Sign up below to get the next one.