A Dave's Collectible Coins Article

Mint vs. Proof Sets: What is the Difference

One of the first questions that any new coin collector or novice numismatist asks is,

“What is the difference between Mint coin sets and Proof coin sets?”

A common question certainly, so don’t feel badly for asking it. Certainly, you have heard of these sets, and you probably have seen a few of them. But what are the differences between them? What rules govern them individually? What purpose do they serve? What exactly makes them different? This article will show very easily and very quickly the key differences between these two types of coins.

Proof Sets

Proof sets are very, very specific, so specific in fact that you can tell a proof coin by just taking a quick glance at it. A proof set of coins is a set of coins that have been specially and artfully struck with very unique polished surfaces and, in recent decades, with frosted images too.

There are two different types of proof coins. Some are newer, some are older. First you have proof coins with frosty images which are called cameo proof coins. Cameo proofs are quite popular and quite in demand. They have been common since the late 1970s, but they were pretty uncommon prior to that year.

The other type of proof coin is just a regular proof coin. These are the types of coins that, while they don’t have the cameo look, are quite brilliant and quite pretty. In fact, the majority of proof coins that have been struck since the year 1936 have brilliant, mirror-like surfaces and minute details struck in great clarity that is unlike regular, circulation coins.

Proof coins have actually been around a lot longer than most people think. Going back into history, the United States Mint has been making these beauties and selling them both as single coins and in sets since the 19th century! There is definitely a big difference in quality though; the earlier one goes back in time. The critical moment really was in 1936 when the U.S. Mint began producing proof sets on a regular basis and in greater numbers than the proofs of earlier of years and decades.

One can see some great examples of proof coins and proof sets right here.

Mint Sets

Mint sets look entirely different. In fact, Mint sets look pretty much just like regular coins. The biggest indicator is that, unlike proof sets, most mint sets do not contain coins that have been struck using any kind of special method of manufacture like the detailed procedure that goes into making proof coins. Instead, mint sets typically contain coins of usual, mint-state quality, except the key factor is that these beauties have not been circulated yet, so they are top notch and are presented in absolutely perfect condition.

What makes Mint sets so special? Mint sets contain coins that are uncirculated (key word right there) and these coins truly are straight from the Mint. They never pass into circulation, meaning they are never used for the purchase of goods or services. Essentially, they are never used as money, and are instead intended for collector’s purposes only. They are pretty and somewhat shiny, but not much more so than regular, circulated coins, and certainly not as shiny and glowing as proof coins are.

The collector’s incentive to buy Mint sets is that these coins have never entered circulation, and they are untouched and undamaged. To add to their value and their interest, Mint sets also sometimes contain different coins that you would otherwise not encounter in circulation, making them even more interesting and desirable for collectors. Some examples of Mint sets can be found here.

Interesting Coins for All Collectors

Some collectors prefer proof sets, some prefer Mint sets. Most like to collect a variety of both. Either way though both have their own unique qualities, and many different Mint sets and proof sets alike are quite desirable and interesting to brand new collectors and veteran numismatists alike.

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