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What is a proof?

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Proof coins are struck on specially prepared planchets by specially prepared dies. The US Mint has been selling proof coins since the 19th century, with some interruptions. A modern proof set would have one of each coin, in a special case.


Generally speaking, I would expect a professional appraiser to charge an hourly fee for appraising a coin collection. Obviously, knowing the value of something you want to sell will help you obtain full value when you sell it.


You could sell your Indian Head cents for a wide range (say from 50 cents each to many hundreds of dollars each) depending on the date of the coin and its condition.


If you give us more specific information, we can give you more specific answers.

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Very interesting question, and the answer, like those to many numismatic questions, is not as simple as one might think.



By definition from the U. S. Mint (cr. 1858) a “proof” coin was a specimen struck especially for sale to coin collectors. The term seems to originate from printing, alcohol distilling and many other trades where a pre-production sample is taken to verify quality, purity, potency or other characteristics of the product. The mint used it in the sense of a special product showing the best that could be produced from the dies.



Brilliant proofs – the polished kind with a mirror-like surface – were settled on for sale to coin collectors because they were distinctive from normal coins yet not so different that they could not be put into circulation if unsold (i.e.: there was little waste of unsold product).



The U.S. Mint has also produced coins for collectors called “bright” proofs, which were struck on a medal press from new dies, but not otherwise altered. When applied to gold coins of 1909-1910 these are sometimes called “Roman” proofs although the term is meaningless (it may be a stray "Breen-ism"). The best modern descriptive term is “satin proof.”



The Mint also made sandblast proofs for gold collectors in 1908 and 1911-1915. There are also scatterings of sandblast proofs of Peace dollars (all four versions), and several pre-1950 commemorative coins. These started out as “bright” proofs, which were then carefully sandblasted by engraving department personnel. They were so different in appearance from normal coins that the Philadelphia Mint could not put any unsold pieces into circulation, and had to melt the leftovers. In 1908 this amounted to 399 complete gold sets that were destroyed for lack of buyers! Old terminology calls these “matte” but the modern descriptive term is “sandblast” as originally used by collectors and the mint.



There are also “matte” proof Lincoln cents (1909-1916) and Buffalo nickels (1913-1916) which were struck on a medal press from dies that had been sandblasted before hardening.



From the 1880s forward, the U. S. Mint produced most proof coins on a high-pressure hydraulic medal press which produced the most faithful impression from the dies. Most were struck with one blow (or “squeeze”) from the press, since a second blow had little effect unless the coin were softened between strikes.



Back when the mint individually inspected every proof coin (through 1916), as many as half of a day’s production were rejected due to defects.



Modern proof coins are struck on high-pressure production presses at relatively slow speed.



This is only a brief and incomplete beginning on the subject. You might also want to consider this: were 1965-67 Special Mint Sets “proof” sets? What really qualifies a coin as a proof? Is it appearance, circumstances of production, the whim of some grading service, or imagination?



There are several interesting books on proof coins. Check with your local library or the ANA library.



Now, a follow up question…What is meant by the term “mintage?”

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