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What’s The Difference Between Matte Proof and Mirror Proof?

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - September 27, 2022

Proof is proof, right? Nope…

There are many kinds of proof coins out there, and two of the most distinctly different kinds that a collector will encounter, at least when handling coins from earlier generations, are matte proofs and mirror proofs.

The 1916 Buffalo nickel is a matte proof, while the 1937 example is a mirror proof. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView.
Click images to enlarge.

While matte proofs have been struck by the United States Mint at various points throughout time, their heyday was certainly the early decades of the 20th century. They were unpopular with many collectors at the time they were made because, in many, respects matte proofs closely resemble well struck business strikes. And while that’s not an invalid point, matte proofs are very much inherently different from business strikes, which are made with regular dies and ordinary planchets.

Matte proofs have remarkably sharp strikes yet, granular surfaces that appear dull. This is quite different from a standard business strike, an uncirculated example of which would normally exhibit flow lines across a generally smooth (though not necessarily glassy) surface. Close examinations of a matte proof versus an uncirculated specimen will show deeper, stronger strike across all details of the proof, plus squarer, sharper rims – the latter particularly atypical of a business strike.

Unlike matte proofs, which have more satiny surfaces, mirror proofs are flashier. Mirrored proofs may have imperfections marring the fields, yet they will still exhibit deep, reflective brilliance across the coin. Mirror proofs, or brilliant proofs can be found dating back to the 19th century and became a mainstay mode of proof production beginning in the late 1930s.

Comparing matte proofs versus mirror proofs is like comparing apples and oranges. Both represent the epitome of minting technology, yet they each carry a different kind of appeal. Mirror proofs bounce light every which way and boast a terrific aesthetic resilience. Matte proofs have a more understated beauty, yet their soft, satiny surfaces are rich with texture and depth.

Historically, collector preferences were predominantly centered around mirrored proofs. However, matte proofs have seen greater popularity in recent years with collectors. Both types of proofs enjoy their collector bases, and regardless of which camp a hobbyist falls into on the proof front, quality is what counts.

Article provided by PCGS at
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