What’s the Difference Between U.S. Proof and U.S. Mint Sets?

Proof mint set differences

Today’s collectors love U.S. proof and mint sets as they combine all the year’s circulation coins, specially minted and housed all in one contained package. But not everyone is clear on the differences between the two sets, which are both official products of the U.S. Mint.

U.S. Proof Sets:

These popular sets contain one exquisite proof specimen of each denominations for the date, cent through dollar. Historically these sets included 5 or 6 coins, but more recently, with commemorative quarters and dollars, they have been comprised of 14 to 18 coins. Since 1968 the proof specimens have been packaged in hard plastic cases, with current sets featuring a number of separate cases.

Proofs are the finest-quality coins produced by the U.S. Mint. They’re painstakingly created from highly polished, immaculately clean dies, which are again carefully cleaned and polished after as few as 15 strikes and soon replaced before the slightest imperfection can appear.

Proof coin blanks are also individually polished to attain a stunning mirror-like finish. Each is then hand-fed into the minting press and struck at least two times to produce far more relief and sharpness than regular circulation coins. Today’s U.S. proof dies have been treated with special chemicals to give engravings an elegant frosted effect, which contrasts beautifully with the blazing mirror look of backgrounds.

From 1983 to 1997 the mint also issued lower-mintage Prestige proof sets that included commemorative proofs for the date, in addition to regular coins. The U.S. Mint added silver sets in 1992, reviving the tradition of 90% silver coins that had ended decades before.

U.S. Mint Sets:

Another option for collectors are the much larger U.S. mint sets. Twice the size of proof sets, they contain perfect Brilliant Uncirculated specimens of every circulation issue for the year (each coin denomination struck by the “P” Philadelphia Mint, “D” Denver Mint and sometimes “S” San Francisco Mint).

Until 1999, U.S mint sets contained between 10 and 13 coins. But the addition of Statehood quarters and other special circulation issues has expanded the recent sets to 18-28 coins each. The coins are generally specially minted with improved strike and finish qualities in comparison with regular business-strike issues. And since 2005, U.S. mint set coins have boasted a special satin finish rather than the former BU look.

In the past the coins were protectively contained in see-through plastic packs, with the issuing mint’s medal included. The 2007 set introduced impressive new protective U.S. Mint packaging that allows edge lettering to be viewed. The blue and red folders show both sides of each coin and protect them from damage.

Where to Go From Here:

Most collectors buy their sets yearly and to keep their collections current (the aftermarket for these sets can be volatile). Some past sets can be very affordable, while others are tough to find. Building a complete collection of U.S. proof and/or mint sets is a wonderful challenge!

Happy coin hunting!

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