When you enter the world of numismatics and coin collecting, there are words that jump out at you from all sides and will surely arouse your curiosity.
One of these words is PROOF.
You will read countless times things like: this coin is of PROOF quality, PROOF coins, PROOF finished coins, and so many variants of the same phrase.
Well, the time has come to clarify all your questions about PROOF coins . You probably got here because you are eager to find the answers, so here we go.
What is a PROOF coin?
A PROOF coin is a numismatic piece that has a special finish, usually with a mirror background and the design has more of an aesthetic function than a functional one. Many PROOF coins have a matte white color, which is achieved by using special procedures and treatments on both the coin’s coin blanks and dies.
There is a large group of coin collectors who focus specifically on collecting PROOF coins. This type of piece has great visual appeal, so PROOF coin collections are very beautiful and varied .
PROOF coins can actually become very valuable. They can even become a form of investment in silver and gold coins.
There are coins with PROOF finish for all tastes and pockets.
Prices can range from a few dollars to several hundred at the time of release. Then prices escalate when the stock runs out, which happens fairly quickly because PROFF coin issues are usually quite limited .
History of PROOF coins
The first known PROOF coin dates back to 1660, and was created to delight King Charles II of Spain. Of course, at that time the concept of PROOF did not exist, but this piece has all the necessary elements to be considered the first PROOF coin in numismatic history.
King Charles II had a great passion for coins, and for himself.
The most common way to unite these two great passions was to see his portrait minted on these pieces. This is how this particular coin came about, which was not intended to serve as a means of payment, but to be shown to King Charles II for his own delight.
It is estimated that this coin can currently cost about 100 thousand euros .
The coins that we can recognize in the past under the label of PROOF, were precisely what their name indicates: Proof Coins.
The function of these PROOF coins was to present them to kings and other officials for their approval before they were massively minted and put into circulation.
Over time the concept and function of PROOF coins has changed to what they are today : Objects designed and marketed to coin enthusiasts and collectors.
In the United States, where coin collecting is a centuries-old hobby, there is a history of PROOF coin minting as far back as 1820. It is true that coins with this denomination, and from that era, are extremely rare and valuable.
Most collectors will never own one, because they will not be able to pay what they are worth today. Already after 1936 it is possible to find PROOF specimens more affordable to a middle class collector.
Therefore, the modern meaning of PROOF Coin refers to pieces designed and minted with techniques and quality superior to the common coins destined for circulation; with the purpose of being offered to coin collectors, and other people interested in this field.
How to know if a coin is PROOF?
To know if a coin is PROOF we must look at its design and finish. These are different from other circulating pieces because of their sharpness, polish and smoothness of the “fields” to the point of showing an unusual shine.
That is to say, normally PROOF Coins are recognizable by their quality , and state of conservation in the case of old coins. Currently, PROOF Coins are accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity from the mint that mints them.
We must not confuse Uncirculated Coins with PROOF Coins. Both may have a very nice and polished finish, but there are some differences between them that make the latter more valuable.
In the following table I share some important differences between uncirculated Coins, usually commemorative type; and the PROOF quality Coins.
|Cutting||They are hand-loaded into the coining press and struck 1 time. They have a smooth, matte finish appearance. The production is very similar to that used to make coins for circulation.||They are struck at least twice, which gives the coin a sculpted, frosted foreground and a glamorous luster, defined and intricate design and mirror background.|
|Handling||May have noticeable imperfections, such as small marks. They are not hand polished and do not go through the same inspection process.||Hand polished and inspected to ensure flawless condition. Always handled with gloves to avoid marks of any kind.|
|Appearance||Produced with a glossy finish, but will not appear as vibrant as a Proof coin.||High gloss with excellent contrast. Detail is very well rendered. This is why they are often referred to as mirror coins.|
|Packaging||Protective packaging is included along with an official Certificate of Authenticity.||Shipped in protective packaging and with official Certificate of Authenticity, in top quality.|
|Rarity||Produced in higher numbers than Proof coins, making them easier to find and more affordable, in most cases. Mintages of several thousand.||Produced in short runs, on the order of a few hundred to a few thousand. This makes the PROOF Coins rarer.|
Types of PROOF quality coins
PROOF Coins can be classified into different types according to some of their most recognized characteristics.
This category includes all coins minted with the purpose of being shown to the mandataries or officials responsible for the approval of the models.
An example of a Classic PROOF coin would be the 5 pesetas of 1949 showing the dictator Franco in military dress; which, by the way, was never approved for circulation.
Modern PROOF coins are those that are minted using special techniques and procedures (which I will discuss later) to achieve a polished and shiny presentation of the field.
They can be minted in Silver or Gold, and often versions of the same series are issued in both materials. This type of coins never integrate the monetary system, since they are marketed directly to collectors.
PROOF Reverse coins are relatively recent, and are distinguished by their contrary appearance to the modern PROOF type. These coins feature the color field, while the design elements are the ones that show the polished appearance.
An example of this type of coin is the 2010 Half Dollar, which shows on a black field, the polished and detailed effigy of Kenedy. The same happens on the reverse with the eagle and other details of the design.
PROOFlike coins are not exactly PROOF coins. They are circulated pieces that show a finish and quality similar to an authentic PROOF piece.
Normally this quality is achieved in those specimens that are minted with a new mint.
As more coins are minted, the dies deteriorate, and the quality of the coin degrades, being still good enough to circulate, but too poor to be considered PROOF.
How are PROOF Coins manufactured?
The process to manufacture PROOF Coins is different from the one followed for common Coins. After all, circulating coins do not lose monetary value because they are more or less beautiful.
The manufacturing process of PROOF Coins is characterized by two elements:
- when the die strikes on the coin blank it has been previously treated (also the die), just like the coin blank,
- the die that has the negative design is treated with chemicals until it reaches a special polish, i.e. like a mirror “that reflects” there are medals with two finishes (satin/mirror) in which only a part of the die is treated to make it proof/mirror, the rest is “hidden” so that it remains satin.
Ordinary coins only receive one strike for minting. This is enough to stamp the design in a recognizable way, and in regular quality. On the other hand, PROOF coins receive between 2 and 3 strikes.
Occasionally they may be struck more times, until the operator decides that the quality and mirror effect is at a higher grade.
Always the personnel working at the Mint, in charge of the minting of PROOF coins, go through a process of decontamination of particles that may be on their clothes. This is done to achieve an optimal atmosphere.
To mint a PROOF coin, we start by preparing a mixture with silica sand that is shot by an air brush into the die and the die. Then both are cleaned with felt and diamond paste, this way a polishing of the area that corresponds to the field of the coin, which is not minted, is started.
The next step is to cover with a tape all the areas that will have a matte finish. It is cleaned again with the same solution of silica sand for polishing.
The tape is removed with a solvent to avoid touching the piece and damaging the polishing. After each minted coin, the die is cleaned again by repeating the above process. This ensures maximum printing or minting quality.
It is worth noting that the quality controls for the manufacture of PROOF coins are far superior to those for other types of coins.
PROOF scale for grading coins
There are several scales for grading coins according to their state of preservation.
What happens with PROOF coins is that they have not circulated, so they are generally in an optimal state of preservation. Even so, expert eyes are able to detect almost imperceptible wear and deterioration that affect the value of the coin.
For this reason, the PROOF scale exists to classify coins of this type . The scale is expressed in PF or PR values, which cover a range between PR60 and PR70.
A coin that has been certified in PR70 quality means that it is extremely rare and valuable. It verges on perfection, hence the very difficult or non-existent occurrence of this type in most lots.
Consider that a PROOF coin can tarnish, darken or change toning just by handling it. If it receives a strike or scratch, the quality and grade drops drastically.
Where to buy PROOF Coins to collect?
It is likely that if you have come this far you are interested in knowing where you can buy PROOF Coins to create your own numismatic collection.
There are plenty of stores to buy PROOF coins for collectors.
You can select from a wide range of Coins from different countries and with very diverse motifs. From religious, political, natural, cartoon and anything else you can think of.
I particularly like this store: Power Coin.
Here you can find PROOF quality coins in silver and gold, from many countries and with an amazing variety of themes and prices.
I recommend you to check it out, and if you find a coin that really impresses you, come back and leave me a comment telling me what is so spectacular about it.
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