The History of Proof Coinage

A proof coin is an early minting which will not be released into circulation, but rather distributed to collectors. In its earliest state, it is often sharper and shinier than later versions, with smooth fields and mirror-like blank areas. They are often double-stamped, though this rarely results in noticeable doubling of the image. In 1916, the U.S. stopped minting proofs, but resumed the practice twenty years later. For almost twenty years the U.S. mint even allowed consumers to order single proof coinage from pennies to half-dollars.

After 1942, however, it was no longer possible to do this. Clients had to buy sets of coins: pennies, nickels, dimes, etc. Certain errors make particular examples especially rare and costly to buy. There have been various special designs created including the Lewis and Clark nickels, Statehood quarters, Presidential dollars, wartime nickels, and more recently ‘America the Beautiful’ quarters.

Most sets contain five or six coins, but there have been exceptions. The most coins in a single set — 18 — were the result of a special year. 2009 marked the bicentennial of the birth of Lincoln, leading to a more extensive series of proofs to mark the occasion.

Proofs and mint sets are different. Mint coins are not regular circulation strikes, which are placed into special packaging. Although the quality of the coins is usually higher than typical, these coins are still considered the circulation issues, which have higher mintages than proofs. In certain cases these mint sets contain coins that were not released through other channels, which can make the sets containing them much more valuable.

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