uncirculated coins

What’s the Difference Between Mint State Coins and Proof Coins?

New coin collectors and beginning numismatists often ask questions like: 

  • Are mint state coins or proof coins better? 
  • Are proof coins worth more than mint coins? 
  • What are uncirculated coins?

Answers to some of these questions will vary depending on context. One of the most important contexts is yours. As I have mentioned before, the best choice for you depends on your financial goals. The first step to determining which may be better for your portfolio or collection is understanding the difference between mint state coins and proof coins. This knowledge can help you decide which kind of coin you like better and what makes sense for you. 

So let’s find out: What’s the difference between mint coins and proof coins?

What are Mint State Coins?

A coin does not come into the world as a “Mint State” coin. Mint state is a description applied to certain coins graded according to the Sheldon Scale, where the coin is considered to be in the same state or condition as when the mint struck the coin. 

The Sheldon Scale, according to the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), is a numeric grading scale ranging from 1 through 70. Based on the theory developed by Dr. William Sheldon, the famous numismatist, in 1948, a coin assigned the highest “Mint State” (MS) grade of MS-70 would be worth 70 times more than a coin graded as a 1. A coin graded MS-70 shows no post-production flaws or imperfections even at 5x magnification.

2014 50-dollar gold eagle mint state coin graded MS-69 by PCGS
2014 50-dollar gold eagle mint state coin graded MS-69 by PCGS

The Sheldon coin grading scale uses the letters MS, for “Mint State” for coins judged to score 60 or more on the 70-point scale. This system, used by some of the most respected authorities in the numismatic grading world – including the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) and PCGS – allows for some flaws and imperfections on coins still graded as mint state. Sometimes these marks and imperfections occur during the striking and post-production handling process. However, coins officially graded as “mint state” are still at the top of the scale, ranging from MS-60 to MS-70.

The grading scales used by PCGS and NGC break down the criteria for each numeric grade as well as strike type.

Another question also comes up frequently: 

What’s the difference between mint state coins, circulated coins, and uncirculated coins? 

It’s probably not difficult to tell the difference between circulated coins and uncirculated coins, as coins minted for circulation are meant to be handled and exchanged by the public as legal tender for any number of economic transactions. In other words, circulated coins are, or have been used as, everyday money.

According to the US Mint, uncirculated coins share some similarities to proof coins, as we will see, in that they are hand-loaded into the press and struck on special blanks, or planchets. Uncirculated coins are struck to have a matte finish, though still somewhat shiny. But they are not intended for circulation in the general economy as everyday money. 

The uncirculated coins produced by the United States Mint also come with a certificate of authenticity. These coins may be graded as mint state coins because they were not subject to the wear and tear of circulation. 

Ultimately, all of these kinds of coins are of interest to coin collectors and numismatists. The kind and level of interest varies depending on the unique features each individual seeks in a coin. Uncirculated coins and mint state coins are more aesthetically appealing due to the pristine condition, and it is often the case that the higher the grade of the coin, the higher the value. 

However, many collectors seek circulation coins that are rare because of errors made during the minting process. The scarcity of the coin creates the excitement of a kind of pocket-change treasure hunt.

What are Proof Coins?

The determination of a proof coin has more to do with its method of manufacture than its graded condition, although proof coins may still be graded from PF-60 to PF-70 on the Sheldon Scale. Proof coins are the highest quality coins produced by any mint, and typically meet the following criteria:

  • Made from highly polished planchets or blanks
  • Hand-loaded into the coin-striking machines
  • Struck at least twice, often up to five times, with a highly polished die to ensure a frosted-looking image, or “relief,” on a gleaming mirror background, or “field” (as opposed to the matte finish of mint state coins)

The US Mint produces proof coin sets that include an example of each denomination struck for circulation. These sets usually include one:

  • Native American $1 coin
  • Kennedy half dollar
  • Roosevelt dime
  • Jefferson nickel 
  • Lincoln penny
  • Proof versions of each year’s special program coin releases such as the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program 

Before 1933, these sets were given to members of Congress, presented as gifts to other VIPs, and put on display in various exhibits. Now, however, proof coin sets are available to all collectors.

The US Mint, the Royal Canadian Mint, PAMP, Perth Mint, and most other popular mints and precious metal companies produce premium specialty proof coins struck from highly polished bullion planchets, most often precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium. For example, Rosland Capital recently donated a gold proof coin featuring the Formula 1 driving legend, Michael Schumacher, to benefit the Caudwell Children charity.

1-kilogram gold proof coin featuring Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher, encased in acrylic
1-kilogram gold proof coin featuring Formula 1 driver Michael Schumacher, encased in acrylic

These proof coins are produced for collectors who also wish to purchase a quantity of highly refined precious metal, such as a .999 (three nines) fineness for silver bullion, a .9999 (four nines) fineness for gold bullion, and .9995 (three nines five) fineness for platinum or palladium. These buyers seek the value of the physical metals from which the proof coins are minted, with the aesthetic appeal and collectibility an added bonus.

How to Buy Mint Coins and Proof Coins

Now that you have a better understanding of the difference between mint coins and proof coins, you’re ready to continue your research. Only you can decide which coins are best for you. People buy different types of coins for different reasons, and it’s important for each person to do their research and determine which products they want. 

What should you look for when buying mint coins or proof coins? Any reputable precious metals and coin dealer such as Rosland Capital sells coins – numismatic, semi-numismatic, mint state, proof, or bullion – and can help you find coins graded by a respected third-party authority such as NGC or PCGS, or certified by an assayer at a well-known mint, with proper documentation and certification of authenticity.

Get more information from the precious metals experts at Rosland Capital.