A proof coin is the highest quality of coin the Royal Mint produces. These coins are distinct from the regular production run currency coins and are produced in very small numbers to be given to VIPs as high-quality examples of a particular year of issue.
Historically, they were issued in sets, often to mark the issue of coins for a new monarch or a change in the design of coinage. In other instances, proof coins were struck in different metals as trials or experiments. They are consequently attributed to a much higher value than regular issues.
Proof coins are struck using hand-finished dies that are highly polished – resulting in the pieces having brilliantly reflective fields and sharper, often frosted images. High quality and polished blanks are positioned by hand and these are struck multiple times, at a slow speed and pressure.
This meticulous process can take up to an hour to strike 50 proof coins in contrast to regular issues which can see some 3,000 coins an hour manufactured. The resulting products are superior quality examples with sharp images, mirror-like fields and sharp rims which are then often displayed in a plush box to add to their ‘luxury’.
1834 William IV Proof Crown
In the present, proof sets are issued by the Royal Mint every year and struck in greater and greater numbers specially for coin collectors (numismatists). This detracts from their traditional, historical exclusivity. Previously, in the last two centuries, they were issued very specifically with the function of heralding new designs in the coinage. In fact, the term ‘proof coinage’ originally referred to the special initial samples, or specimens, of a coin issue made for checking the dies and for archival purposes.
The first official British milled proof set was issued during the reign of King George IV in 1826, followed by the 1831 proof set in King William IV’s reign. Queen Victoria’s reign saw four official proof sets issued; in 1839 to commemorate her ascension to the throne, 1853 featuring the Gothic crown and florin, 1887 to reveal the new ‘Jubilee Head’ design and 1893 to celebrate the new ‘Old Head’ design. Sets were issued in 1902 for King Edward VII, 1911 for King George V, and in 1936 for Edward VIII. This is by far the rarest set due to Edward’s abdication.
Only two of these sets are available in the public domain, with one having been split up and the individual coins sold separately. In 1937 a proof set was issued for the abdicated king’s brother, who had become King George VI. 1953 saw an official proof set for Queen Elizabeth II but in recent times the Royal Mint now produce proof sets every year.
All early proof sets have increased significantly in price since the early 2000s. Specifically, a look at auction prices between 2002 and 2018 for the 1831 Proof set reveals they have increased by up to 5 times their value in a 16 year period.
1831 Proof Set
Click to view