Investing in Gold: Proofs: Coins made to be perfect
Coins with the same design have long been made by different processes. Coins made for circulation are termed as mint state coins, and if they have not been used they become deemed uncirculated. Proof coins are different because they are made by a special process. A proof is a specimen strike of the coin and not the condition of the coin itself. Proofs are made for collectors, presentations, display, or commemorative purposes. Today they are mostly made for collectors.
A proof coin is made using the same blanks and machines, but the surfaces come out more detailed and lustrous. This is because the dies striking the blanks are highly polished before striking the coins and then the blanks themselves are polished too. Instead of having the blanks machine fed into the coin press, they are hand fed and then struck at least twice instead of the single time for mint state coins.
Coining proofs is much slower, but the result is stunning. The coins themselves are crisper in detail and the surfaces exhibit a mirror-like finish that is like looking into a calm pool of water. Workers making proofs take extra time and caution throughout the whole process to ensure the highest quality possible.
Before 1856 proofs were made very infrequently and usually just for special purposes. Thus early proofs are rare and often command very large sums of money. One of our most famous proof coins is the 1804 dollar. Proof dollars from that year have sold for in excess of $4 million and are generally thought to be worth at least $1 million each.
From 1856 through 1916 proof were made at the Philadelphia mint for collectors, but the number of proofs made were still very low, usually 1,000 or less. In 1895 there were 880 proof dollars made, but because there were no mint state coins made there that year these coins have become the king of a Morgan dollar set. Even coins that have been worn down from 1895 will bring around $30,000 each.
A few specimen coins were made at other mints, but they are rare and most collectors will never even get to see one. Carson City made a few dollars and one dime that is known to the numismatic community, but nothing else is known to exist in proof condition from the Carson mint.
The mint resumed making proofs in 1936 and did so until the war in 1942. These coins were made in fairly small numbers and are now prized by collectors as well. Then in 1950 the modern era of proof coins began. There were a few years that they were not made, but other than that the modern proof coins have been made much more readily available than there earlier counterparts.
Modern proof coins are made in larger quantities, and thus one can pick up a proof set or coin for very little extra. These coins make great gifts for those who like to collect coins.
• Allen Rowe is the owner of Northern Nevada Coin in Carson City.