What Are Proof Coins?
Proof coins are specially manufactured for sale at a premium to collectors and sometimes for exhibition or for presentation as a gift or award. Proofs are generally distinguishable from ordinary coins by their mirrorlike fields, frosty devices (especially in recent years) and extra sharp details.
To obtain these qualities, each proof coin die is polished to produce an extremely smooth surface and used for a limited number of coins. Planchets are hand fed to the coin press, where they are struck at a higher than ordinary pressure. Struck coins are removed by hand with gloves or tongs. Modern proof coins are usually packaged in clear plastic to protect them from handling, moisture, etc.
For many years the U.S. Mint has sold annual sets of proof coins. These "regular" proof sets usually contain one proof coin of each denomination minted. In 1983, 1984 and 1986-97, Prestige Sets were also sold. Prestige Sets include all the coins in the regular set, plus one or two commemorative coins issued the same year. Since 1992, the Mint has also offered Silver Proof Sets, which include 90% silver versions of the proof dime, quarter(s) and half dollar. From 1992 through 1998, the Mint also offered a Premier Silver Proof Set. The two types of silver proof sets contain the same coins, with the premier set housing them in fancier packaging.