What Is the Difference between Proof Coins and Uncirculated Coins?


We have discussed a number of times before which factors determine the price for rare coins, including a coin’s availability, its condition, and what the market for that coin is at present. One aspect of coin condition is if it has circulated. Coins that have circulated will be worth less than uncirculated coins because they become damaged with time and use. Proof coins do not circulate either, but there are numerous differences between proof coins and uncirculated coins. In this blog we will go through those differences and how they affect value and collectibility. 

What Are Proof Coins?

Proof coins originated as evidence that the master die the mint used to stamp the coin worked correctly. The first proof coin was a test of the die and was struck multiple times to bring out the detail in the die design. Typically, a few proof coins were stamped to make sure there would be no coin errors. If the coins looked correct, the proof was approved, and the die was then used to strike coins meant for circulation. These coins were then struck only once and released to the public. 

Today the U.S. Mint produces silver and gold proof coins not as a test of the dies, but as the highest quality copy of the coin. Proof coins are struck at least twice and hand polished before they are placed in protective packaging to preserve them. As a result, proof coins have a mirror-like background and a sculpted, matte foreground. Every detail of the coin’s design is completely visible. These are rare coins, so their potential to appreciate in value over time is greater. They are often used as gifts for coin collectors at holidays, birthdays, or other celebrations. 

Proof coins are manufactured solely for collecting. Because of this they will sell for much higher prices than circulated versions of the same coin. 

What Are Uncirculated Coins?

Uncirculated can mean “mint condition” coins. These are coins that never went into circulation. They may have the same design as circulating coins, but they were never meant to be handled or used the way regular coins are, and so they will be in better condition than circulated coins. 

Unfortunately, there is some confusion about the term uncirculated because of the way the U.S. Mint began marketing their coins for sale in 2006. Coin World explained this thus: 

“Much of the confusion lies with changes in 2006 to the U.S. Mint’s terminology and with the hobby’s use of an alternative term. From 1986 to 2005, the Mint referred to the American Eagle gold and silver bullion coins as having an “Uncirculated” finish. In 2006, the Mint celebrated the 20th anniversary of the American Eagle program by introducing a collector “Uncirculated” coin while at the same dropping the same term from all marketing materials for the bullion coin versions, even though those pieces still had an Uncirculated finish.”

Uncirculated coins are loaded by hand into the coining press and struck only once on specially burnished blanks. They will have a smoother, shinier finish than a traditional circulated coin, but their appearance will not be as clear and mirror-like as a proof coin. They are also sold in protective packaging.  

Again, uncirculated coins are minted for collectors. They are usually more affordable to collect than proof coins are. The Mint often strikes more uncirculated coins than proof coins for sale which makes them, in most cases, more accessible. Purchasing uncirculated coins can be a great way to start a coin collection, and they make great gifts as well. 

If you are interested in collecting specific coins either in proof or uncirculated form, Grand Rapids Coins would be happy to help locate them for you. We are always glad to connect collectors with the coins they love. Call us at (616) 378-0240 for all your coin or currency questions. 

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