Proof Sets And Mint Sets: What’s The Difference?

proof-set-and-mint-set-by-joshua.jpg Are you new to coin collecting?

If so, then you likely have heard about mint sets and proof sets, but probably have no idea what they are or what the differences are between them.

When I first began collecting coins, telling the differences between what mint sets and proof sets was really important to me. Because, as you will see here, mint sets and proof sets are very different types of things!

Following is a summary of the differences between mint coin sets and proof coin sets...

 

Proof Sets

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Proof sets are sets of coins that have been specially struck with polished surfaces and, in recent decades, frosted images.

Proof coins with frosty images are called cameo proof coins. Cameo proofs, while highly common since the late 1970s, are rather uncommon among proof coins from earlier years.

Overall, the majority of proof coins struck since 1936 have brilliant, mirror-like surfaces and minute details struck in great clarity.

The United States Mint has been making proof coins and proof sets since the 19th century. However, in 1936, the U.S. Mint began producing proof sets on a regular basis and in greater numbers than the proofs of earlier of years.

  • Proof sets made since 1936 normally contain one example of every regular-strike coin being produced in a given year.
  • Proof sets made before 1965 contain coins struck at the Philadelphia mint. Proof sets made since 1968 contain San Francisco mint coins.
  • There have been a couple gaps in proof set production since 1936: 1943-1949 and 1965-1967.
  • Proof sets made from 1936 to 1955 were contained in clear, small, soft plastic pouches, each holding one coin. These were then shipped to collectors in cardboard boxes. During 1955, the U.S. Mint switched from using individual plastic pouches (each holding one coin) to a flat package which houses all the proof coins in one sealed piece of cellophane with six pouches, each holding one proof coin. NOTE: Many of the 1936-1955 proof sets have been removed from their original packaging and have since been rehoused in hard plastic cases.
  • This variation of cellophane proof set packaging used right up through 1964. When regular proof set production resumed in 1968, the U.S. Mint began housing proof coins in a hard, flat plastic case. Though the design of the U.S. Mint’s hard plastic proof set cases has changed slightly over the years, the overall format has remained the same since 1968.

 

Mint Sets

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Unlike proof sets, most mint sets do not contain coins that have been struck using special methods of manufacture. Instead, mint sets typically contain coins of usual, mint-state quality.

Mint sets contain coins that are uncirculated and look like (and are) straight from the Mint. However, they are not really any shinier or well-struck than usual, newly minted coins.

The advantage to buying mint sets over simply removing coins from circulation is that mint set coins have never entered circulation, and therefore are pristine and virtually untouched. Mint sets also sometimes contain coins that you would otherwise not encounter in circulation.

In fact, coins like the 1970-D Kennedy half dollar, 1973 Eisenhower dollars, 1987 Kennedy half dollars, and 1996-W (West Point, New York) Roosevelt dime are coins that were not released by the U.S. Mint into circulation but they are included in mint sets!

  • Mint sets were first produced in 1947. Back then, mint sets contained 2 examples of each design and each mint’s coins. These sets were assembled using cardboard panels that held the coins. Unfortunately, the cardboard holders (which contain sulfur and glue, and do not protect the coins from the air) left many of the coins inside them to become very toned and spotty over the years. It is important to note, though, that some of this toning is considered beautiful and desirable to certain collectors.
  • In 1958, the United States Mint began assembling mint sets using sealed cellophane containers that include only one coin of each design and mint. This format had remained mainly unchanged until recently.
  • In 2007, the U.S. Mint began housing mint sets in folders; a blue folder houses Philadelphia coins and a red one contains coins made at the Denver mint.
  • Red and blue color coding for the two mints has remained the same since the introduction of cellophane mint set packaging in 1959. The soft plastic holders each contain two colored strips. Blue strips indicate Philadelphia coins, and red strips were used on packaging containing Denver coins (and San Francisco coins, during some years).

 

The Value Of Proof Sets & Mint Sets

Prices for proof sets and mint sets vary widely by date and variety.

The least expensive proof and mint sets can be bought for less than $5 to $7 apiece for certain sets from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Early proof and mint sets can cost the collector hundreds and even thousands of dollars apiece.

We have a number of articles here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins which discuss the value of various mint sets and proof sets. In addition to those, you may also find prices for proof sets and mint sets in the Professional Coin Grading Service price guide.

Likewise, A Guide Book of United States Coins contains annually updated pricing information on thousands of U.S. coins, including mint sets and proof sets.

Don’t forget, proof sets and mint sets make perfect coin gift ideas for anybody on your birthday and holiday shopping list.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez

My love for coins and numismatics began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I've also been studying meteorology and watching weather patterns for years. I enjoy sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about coins, weather, travel, health, and living green with others.

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Fun From Around the Web

  • New Grandma

    I’m going to be a first time grandma in December and I would like to get my new grandson either a 2010 proof set or mint set. I’m reading about the differences, but I’m still confused as to which would be a better gift. Advice would be most appreciated. Thank you.

    • Anonymous

      Congratulations, New Grandma!

      If you’re buying the coin set as a gift for your grandson, I recommend buying a 2010 proof set. The reason? While a proof set costs a bit more than a mint set (also called an uncirculated set), the coins in the proof set are specially struck. They have mirror-like finishes and extra high-quality detail. Coins in a mint set look just like ordinary-quality coins.

      The only other difference is that a mint set contains one coin of each design from each mint (Philadelphia and Denver). The proof set has one coin of each design, and those are struck at the San Francisco mint.

      Here’s a link to the U.S. Mint’s catalog where you can find both the mint set and proof set: http://catalog.usmint.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CategoryDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&identifier=2000

      Good luck!

  • sylvia

    trying to find a value for 1987 & 1988 united states prestige sets. each contain silver dollar,half dollar,quarter,dime, nickel and penny. in original condition w/certificate of authenticity.

    • Anonymous

      Sylvia,

      Each is worth $35 to $40.

  • Jeff

    Is there any such set,1959 Philadephia in hard cases?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Jeff –

      The only 1959 sets from the United States in a hard case are those which were assembled by somebody outside of the U.S. Mint. You can find birth year sets (or repackaged proof sets and mint sets) from many coin dealers. For the record, both the proof sets and mint set sets made in the U.S. that year by the mint are packaged in pliable cellophane holders.

  • markrroy

    I have several years of mint proof coin sets in the original packages from the mint. I am trying to find out if I should leave them “as is” or, send them to a coin grading service “PCGS” to be graded and sealed, which would essentially break up the set into individual coin sealed packages? I understand the costs involved but am unsure about the future values.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Mark –

      This can be a deliberation for many coin collectors. Many consider breaking up their sets to see if they can score one or two “super grade” coins – those that score a PF 69 or PF 70 grade.

      As for future values, that is very difficult to say; coins in ultra-high grades are always high in demand, but remember that most proof coins struck since 1980 are already in grades of at least Proof 68 or 69, and there is a glut of these coins out there. I’d say unless these are earlier proof coins (from before the late 1970s particularly), it may not be worth the cost of having all those coins graded. Good luck!