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Differences Between Proof & Prooflike Coins


Distinguishing between Proof and Prooflike coins may seem a little more challenging than one might think at first blush. After all, both Proof and Prooflike coins seem similar in appearance, as both types of coins usually feature a degree of surface reflectivity, some pieces more than others. And, sometimes, it may seem that certain Prooflike coins offer more brilliance than coins designated as Proofs. So, what’s the real difference between Proof and Prooflike coins, and how can you can tell these two types of coins apart?

Morgan Dollar, 1881 $1, PL, PCGS MS65+PL. Click image to enlarge.

Morgan Dollar, 1881 $1, PCGS PR67+. Click image to enlarge.

It’s All in the Method of Manufacture

While Prooflike coins are “shiny” coins, a proof is distinguished by so much more than its gleam. When it comes to United States coins, Proof refers not to a grade or level of brilliance on a coin’s surface, but rather to the method of the coin’s manufacture; interestingly, Proof coins were traditionally referred to as a “Master Coins.”

Here’s a look at the ways in which Proof coins are made in the United States versus typical Prooflikes:

  • Proofs – A Proof coin is made with a highly polished planchet struck by a specially prepared die.
    • Some parts of the die may be sandblasted to impart a frosted finish on the devices to create a cameo contrast against the mirror-like fields or, alternatively, frosted fields and reflective devices.
    • Proof coins are typically struck at least twice to ensure complete impression of all details. Among these details are squared-off rims – a hallmark of most proof coins.
    • Furthermore, a significant part of producing Proofs is not just the strike but also the special care that goes into handling proof coinage at the mint. The blanks are carefully fed into the presses and transferred from station to station with gloved hands.
  • Prooflike coins – Prooflike coins are usually the result of a particularly nice, brilliant planchet being struck by a new or recently polished dies. However, that is where any seeming similarities in the minting process end.
    • A Prooflike coin will generally not be rendered any further special care during the minting process.
    • Unlike Proofs, a circulation strike that offers Prooflike brilliance will have only been struck once.
    • Furthermore, the business-strike coin with Prooflike radiance will generally not have been afforded any special handling during the minting process.

While Prooflike business-strike coins are usually pretty scarce, some series are more likely to yield Prooflike specimens. For example, many Morgan Dollars were produced in such a fashion that relatively large quantities of circulation strikes were created with Prooflike surfaces. In some cases, early Prooflike strikes have the added benefit of frosted devices. Though such Prooflike pieces are extraordinarily rare.

What Are the Standards for a Prooflike Coin?

PCGS has a set standard for designating a given coin as Prooflike, or “PL.” These grading standards are the following:

  • There must be a clear reflection in the fields on both sides of the coin as viewed from two to four inches away.
  • Cloudiness or striations may impede the reflectivity on eligible Prooflike coins.

Historically the PL designation was awarded only to qualifying Morgan Dollars. However as of July 1, 2019, PCGS began bestowing the PL designation to all qualifying Mint State United States and world coins, medals, and tokens regardless of type.

Coin Collecting: Basics

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