A proof coin today is a collectable edition of a new coin, often presented as a set, especially packaged for collectors.
This was not always the case. Originally, proof coins were specially minted in order to test the dies – the items that make the impression on the blank coin – and to add to the archives. This, early proof coins of this type are very valuable, as they were produced in small numbers.
Today, the Royal Mint produces proof sets in greater numbers, yet still with the attention to detail that was applied to the original versions. The dies are specially polished, and a proof coin is usually struck twice for greater resolution and relief, making them more defined than the circulated editions.
Whether a specific, one-off coin to commemorate an occasion – for example, the Royal Mint produced a £5 proof coin celebrating the founding of the House of Windsor 100 years hence in 2017 – or a set of that year’s circulated coins in proof form, these often form the centrepiece of a collectors set, and are produced in strictly limited numbers. Proof coins are not only produced in the UK, but also in many other countries, with US proof editions being very collectable.
Recent proof editions have celebrated Harry Potter, the Vulcan bomber aircraft, Star Wars, and various Royal Weddings and birthdays, as the Royal Mint caters for collectors of all ages and is actively engaged in getting younger people interested in collecting coins.
As for price, the 2018 Premium Proof Coin Set – which included all the circulated coins in the UK proofed in their usual metals, complete with a special ‘Premium Medal’ and presented in a classy walnut box, retailed for £210, and the strictly limited run of 5000 editions sold out very quickly.
Can You Spend Proof Coins?
No, they are designed to be kept in collections rather than spent. However, they are legal tender, which is where things get confusing. Legal tender is a term that is rarely used, and applies mainly to the paying of debts in court: proof coins, and other commemorative coinage, can be used for this purpose, although it is unlikely. A shopkeeper may take one in payment, but is unlikely to.
It is also unlikely you would want to spend a proof coin, as it’s value in a collection is likely to be far higher than that of its face value.
We should also comment on the difference between proof coins and uncirculated coins. Whereas a proof coin – as we have learned – is struck with a specially polished die, and usually struck twice for added clarity, an uncirculated coin is struck in the standard fashion, but is kept in mint condition and not issued to the public. Thee are also collectable editions although not as valuable as proof coins.
Coin collecting is an interesting hobby that involves a great deal of heritage and history, and proof sets are a great place to start.