Proof coins are distinguished by sharpness of detail and usually have a brilliant mirror like finish in the fields and many later issues have frosted features such as the head, eagle, and in some cases the top of the letters. You can also see the matte finish on the Proof Eagle coin at the top of the page.
A proof coin is a specialty coin made by the mints of many countries.
They are used for presentations, exhibitions, souvenirs, gifts and are highly collected by those interested in numismatics, in other words, coin collectors.
In this short article we are only going to cover American Proof Coins, however, much of the information will be very similar to the mints of other countries.
Most pre-1968 proof coins were produced by the Philadelphia Mint and consequently do not have a mint mark. Early Proof Like Silver Dollars out of the Philadelphia and New Orleans Mint "O" are quite rare and not many were produced.
For the last few years proofs have been made at the San Francisco Mint and will have "S" mint marks. Recently they opened the West Point Mint and coins originating from them will have a "W" mint mark.
A proof coin is the method of manufacturing that is used and not a grade. If a proof coin ended up in circulation, it may be graded anywhere from good "G" to almost uncirculated "AU". If the proof is uncirculated it will be graded Mint State "MS" 60 to "MS" 70 or anywhere in between.
Some countries strike proof coins from both polished sheets and polished dies according to their press releases. The U.S. Mint has followed this practice for a number of years.
In most cases it's very easy to tell the difference in proof coins and everyday use business strikes. Proof coins have brilliant mirror finishes and in most cases full detail is shown.
Matte proof finish is where the whole striking surface of the coin stamping die was sandblasted and they have a granular look over the whole coin. In the early Matte Proofs, if the coin went into circulation, it is almost impossible to tell if it was a proof.
In the U.S., matte proof pennies, nickels, and many gold proofs were made between the years of 1908 and 1916. Some 1921 and 1922 matte proof silver dollars were also struck.
Brilliant proofs are where the whole die has been polished. Many new coin dies started out life in the coining presses by having a matte finish on the body or head of the coin, then as the coins were stamped out, the frosted matte look began to disappear because of die wear. Rather than resandblasting to create the frosty look, the mint just took a time short cut and repolished the whole die.
Depending on the size of the coin and the stamping pressure required, in some cases the proof or proof like coin can lose the frosty look by the time 45 to 100 coins have been through the die. This is basically why only a few cameo proof like frosted coins are seen in business strikes or in many proof coins.
It also sets up a rarity factor for the frosty proofs or proof likes before 1968 including Special Mint Set Coins, Kennedy Half Dollars, Franklin Halves, Washington Quarters, Roosevelt Dimes, Jefferson Nickels, and Roosevelt Dimes.
Even proof coins produced since 1968 out of new dies that have the best strikes and the prettiest cameo appearance will command much higher prices than those found in the run of the mill proof set.
Collectors who enter the exotic and esoteric field of cameo proof and proof like coin collecting, enter because not only do they love the beauty of the coins, but they have been in the hobby long enough to know the rarity factor and value of these modern day proof or proof like rarities.
Today's (the 90's) American High Quality Proof Coins are made from polished blanks and frequently polished dies and are hand fed into the coin press and removed by either coin tongs or gloved hand. Then they are placed in plastic cases and sonically sealed.
A very few dealers who have made a study of proofs and proof like coins can almost tell you how many times the coin die has been repolished and resandblasting. By spending time comparing the same type of proof coin you will be able to see lost detail and clarity in those dies that have had many repolishing and resandblasting. When given the choice, always purchase the best strike and those with the best overall frosty appearance.
Many dealers are not familiar with the manufacturing process and simply call them weak strikes, which is not the case. They are dies that have been in service too long or refinished too many times.
The beautiful frosty appearance and brilliant mirror field is caused by sand blasting the recessed part of the dies and highly polishing the die fields. The frosty look can be lost on a set of dies by use, consequently the price on highly frosted coins coming from a new set of dies can be much higher than proof coins coming from worn dies or unsuccessfully polished dies.
Proof like business strikes only come from new dies with less than 100 coins ran through them. That's why proof like business strikes are expensive.
Listed in the Coin Index are Proof Sets & individual Proof Coins we have for sale. Proof Sets sell on a daily basis, if it is not in the list it means we are out of stock at this time. However, we buy daily off the street and over the Internet, so check the list daily if you are looking for particular years.
Prices on sets and individual proof coins will vary according to the amount of frost the proofs have. You will see sets or individual coins of the same year with different prices.
Because of the rarity factor of highly frosted proof coins and the lack of reporting information on these sales, most dealers are at a major disadvantage of knowing true rarity factor and value.
To give you an idea of this, WSCE 2 years ago sold a highly frosted Franklin Half Dollar Proof to a major dealer who holds coin auctions for rare coins. We sold him the coin for $750.00. He had it slabbed and the coin sold for $1,500.00 when auctioned.
The funny part about it was we had sold the coin to a customer for $750.00. the customer returned the coin because he showed it to his local coin dealer and the coin dealer told him a 1962 Proof Franklin Half was worth about $8.00 and the customer thought we had ripped him off and was highly upset. Even though we had refunded his money, he stopped doing business with us.
Six months later I sent him a copy of the auction record, which he showed to his local dealer, who brushed him off by saying, "That's not an area that I specialize in".
When I bought the coin for $200.00 from another dealer, he told me later he thought that I was a fool.
Rarity, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man's $8.00 coin is another dealer's $1,500.00 treasure.
With world coins in the 10's of millions going back 3,000 years, no dealer in 10 life times could specialize in all of them, let alone know their values.
The Frosted Proof Penny from the same year proof set, is 8 to 10 times as rare as the Frosted Franklin Half, however, it is dirt cheap in comparison simply because penny collectors in most cases don't wish to purchase truly rare pennies. They just wish to fill out their collections.
Those of you that are new to the hobby of collecting proofs, proof sets, or proof like coins, please do not keep sending emails asking me why a particular single proof or proof like coin is more expensive than a whole 5 piece proof set of the same year. Spend some time comparing proof coins and if you can, purchase a gem or coin scope of at least 20 power. Then you will know by experience, rather than questions. I have done my best to explain why the difference in price on this page and if it's not sufficient you will just have to take the time to learn. It's like die varieties, it takes a keen eye and patient mind. If price is your only consideration, purchase the sets.
There is a minimum charge of $2.00 per Proof Coin, even if the Red Book price is lower. This is the labor cost of grading the coin, putting it in a 2"x2" cardboard flip and the data processing cost.
Any frosted proof coin worth more than $10.00 can be returned within 10 days for full refund. It must be in the original holder and not have been removed and your reason for returning must be stated. Not enough frost is not the right reason, if you want a higher frost coin, buy the more expensive ones.
They are graded, Light Frost (LF), Medium Frost (MF), Heavy Frost (HF), and Deep Frost (DF).
Because of the lack of the coin industry setting up grading standards for proof coins, Washington Square Coin Exchange set up this new grading standard and eventually it will become the industry standard for grading proofs and proof likes. The lack of dealers and customers alike to take the time to learn how to grade, spawned a whole new industry in the last 10 years.
This recent (15 years) grading industry is made of third party private firms, who grade coins for dealers and coin collectors. The coins that are graded by these firms are sealed in a plastic container like the one shown below. I keep this AU Silver Dollar along with several others, graded MS63 around to show people what 3rd Party Grading is all about.
Within the industry they are called slabbed coins. The different grading and slabbing companies charge anywhere from $10.00 to as much as $100.00 to give their opinion on what the coin's grade is.
There are two fundamental problems with this 3rd party grading game:
1. Grading is subjective. In other words, different people will grade a coin differently. I sent in what I felt was an almost uncirculated 58 (AU58), the first company I sent it to graded it an AU55. It was a 1893S Morgan Dollar and a very expensive coin. I removed the coin from the slab and sent it to another slab company and it came back a MS60. There was a $15,000.00 difference in the grade from the second company. In other words, the coin was worth $15,000.00 more with a grade of MS60 than a grade of AU55. I called the second company that graded the coin MS60 and they felt it was a weak strike rather than wear. I have a 50 power gem scope and knew better. Like I say, grading is subjective. It cost me $40.00 to have the second company grade it, and $10.00 for the first. I sold the coin to another dealer for $25,000.00 who agreed with the grading sight unseen. Who do you think you would send your coins to? The one who charged $10.00 for undergrading the coin, or the one who charged $40.00 for overgrading the coin?
2. The second thing I think is wrong, who do you think pays for slabbing? Not the dealer, he just passes it on to the customer. Who pays for the overgraded slabbed coin? Again, the customer.
The 1883O Slab Coin shown above is a perfect example of an overgraded coin. The coin is actually an almost uncirculated coin (AU). However, the slabbing company who graded it, called it an MS63 - 4 grades above the real grade. This is only one example of the hundreds of overgraded slab coins I have seen over the last 10 years. If you are a slab coin buyer or dealer start looking at the grading on the coin and then look at the coin and you will understand that all coins are not graded equally. There is no real protection in paying for 3rd party grading. Most long time dealers will buy the coin as they see it. Not what's typed on the slab.
Yesterday, I received 3 emails each with a list of slabbed coins asking us to bid on them (sight unseen). I sent each slab collector the same response - send the coins, we will grade the coins and then make you an offer.
Coins that are not slabbed are called raw coins by slab dealers. Unslabbed coins are 90% of the coin market. If you learn to grade, you will quickly discover that raw coins are the way to collect. Your own intelligence can make you a lot of money by spotting coins that the slabbing companies will grade higher than the dealer or private party is grading it and asking for it.
We do buy and sell slabbed coins, however, we do not buy any collector coins sight unseen and we pay the for grade we think it is, not some third party guess.
The reason I have added this information in the Proof Section is that all the information on regular coins is very much the same for proof coins. How do you purchase a frosted proof slabbed coin sight unseen, when all the description says is Cameo Proof MS65? This description does not give you amount or degree of frost.
Proof coin collecting is not only a hobby, but it's a high-level grading art and as such, there is always a profit edge available for those that take the time to learn the art of grading. There are 2 books I recommend to start learning to grade, The Red Book and the ANA Grading Book. Both are inexpensive and will teach you how to keep from being ripped off by unscrupulous dealers or overgraded slab coins.
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