How to Tell If a Coin Is a Proof Coin

How to Tell If a Coin Is a Proof Coin


Written by John Rothans

Dec 8, 2021

One gold coin is just like the next, right? Not so fast. When it comes to coins made from gold and other precious metals, you’ll spot not-so-subtle differences between proof coins and bullion coins. But how do you tell them apart? As America’s Gold Authority®, we’re here to explain how to know if a coin is a proof coin or a bullion coin.

What Is a Proof Coin?

A proof coin is the finest-quality coin produced by the United States Mint. The term “proof” typically refers to the coin’s finish. Proof blanks are specially treated, hand-polished, and cleaned to ensure high-quality strikes. The blanks then are fed into presses fitted with specially polished dies and struck at least twice. Finally, the coins are packaged to showcase and preserve their exceptional finish.

A proof coin can offer greater insulation from the pricing volatility of a bullion coin because the weight of the metal plays just one part in determining a proof coin’s potential performance.

Proof coins are almost always in a much shorter supply than their bullion counterparts. For instance, the bullion version of the 1998 1-oz. Gold American Eagle had a mintage of nearly 1.5 million coins, but the 1998 Proof Gold Eagle had a mintage of just 26,000 coins.

Notable proof coins include the Proof Gold American Eagle, Proof Platinum American Eagle, and Proof Silver American Eagle.

What Is a Bullion Coin?

A bullion coin is mainly priced by the weight of the precious metal in the coin, and the spot price can fluctuate daily. Bullion coins are typically produced in much greater numbers than proof coins.

Both bullion and proof coins are purchased by people seeking a tangible way to own gold, silver, platinum, or palladium.

The United States Mint does not sell bullion coins directly to the public. Instead, people must buy them from places like U.S. Money Reserve.

Popular bullion coins include the Gold American Eagle, Gold American Buffalo, and Canadian Gold Maple Leaf.

How to Tell If a Coin Is a Proof Coin

So how can you tell if a coin is a proof coin? You can often tell by looking at the coin and examining it closely. Here are some features to look for:

  • A frosted, sculpted foreground for a glamorous shine
  • A defined, intricate design
  • A mirror-like background
  • An official certificate of authenticity
  • Encasement in a protective capsule

By contrast, here are some of the common characteristics of bullion coins:

  • Struck only once with a standard matte finish
  • Less defined and intricate design than proof coins
  • Not always encased in a protective capsule

If you’re uncertain whether a coin is a proof coin or if it’s a bullion coin, compare it to a verified proof coin from a proof set or one that is kept in a protective capsule.

How to Handle Bullion and Proof Coins

But no matter what you do, make sure you follow the proper protocol for coin handling. A coin’s condition is an important factor in determining its overall market value.

  • Wash your hands before handling a coin, even if the coin is in a protective case. Do not eat or drink near your coins.
  • Set out a protective mat or soft, thick cloth on the table to help protect the coin if you drop it.
  • Do not remove a coin from its protective case, especially if the coin is graded. The case preserves the coin’s quality; thus, removing the case jeopardizes the coin’s official grade.
  • Don’t breathe on the coin. Tiny drops of saliva can land on the coin and cause spots!

U.S. Money Reserve specializes in high-grade, government-issued proof coins. Call a knowledgeable Account Executive to discuss the differences between proof coins and other coins and to hear how proof coins can further strengthen your precious metals portfolio.


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