Prooflike coins vary in their degree of clear
By Eric Von Klinger
In virtually any
series of coins, collectors may run across a
designation of "prooflike" surfaces, but the
term is most often encountered in regard to
Morgan silver dollars.
The degree of reflectivity was determined in
part by the fineness of the polishing compound
It gained currency in the 1950s and 1960s as the
last of silver dollar releases from Treasury
Department vaults took place. Seemingly vast
quantities of decades-old coins suddenly were
becoming available in "Uncirculated" condition.
It was apparent even among all these never-used
coins that there were substantial differences in
overall appealing qualities. Some were
"bag-marked" (heavily affected by contact
marks). Some were toned from contact with
canvas. Some had dull surfaces and others –
exceptional pieces – were, well, "prooflike."
"Proof," as collectors learn early in their
grading lessons, is not a grade but a
manufacturing process. A Proof generally is
exceptionally well struck, but the surface might
vary by process chosen. A Matte Proof, for
instance, has a grainy-looking surface.
When collectors talk about "Proof surface" or "prooflike
surface," however, they mean a more usual,
brilliant, highly reflective finish in the
fields. (Fields are the flat, plain areas away
from the design and inscriptions.)
A "prooflike" Uncirculated coin, then, is one
with such fields, often described as "mirrorlike."
Other Uncirculated coins may appear brilliant,
but closer examination will reveal that the
brilliance comes from what is called the
"cartwheel effect." When the coin is rotated,
light reflects from delicate, radial striations
in the surface like spokes on a wheel.
Yet other Uncirculated coins may display an
overall "frosty" appearance.
A "prooflike" surface does not bounce light from
its fields in a cascading way. Rather, its
fields are highly reflective. A finger held a
few inches from the surface will show as in a
mirror. More tellingly, on a truly mirrorlike
field, writing can be held 2 to 4 inches away
and be read easily in the reflection.
Other than in the reflectivity of its fields, a
prooflike coin is like other circulation
strikes. Its rims are not squared, as on a
Proof, and it has been struck a single time
rather than twice as on a Proof coin.
There is a temptation for the collector seeing "prooflike"
added to the basic grade to picture a highly
desirable specimen. But it is important to pay
attention to that base grade, and to examine
other aspects of the surface.
Prooflike dollars are not necessarily fully or
sharply struck, Bruce Anspacher warned in an
essay in The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar
Encyclopedia, by John Highfill, published in
1992. A prooflike dollar might also be heavily
Anspacher, together with Wayne Miller, listed a
number of ways in which prooflike surfaces may
have been created, such as use of leftover,
polished Proof planchets or use of new rollers
in the mill where strips of coinage metal were
The chief origin of prooflike surfaces, however,
and the reason they are associated mostly with
Morgan dollars, lies in a single word, "basining,"
Basining is the imparting of a gently curved
face to a die ("dishing"), so as to bring up the
design more efficiently in striking coins.
To achieve this effect, the Mint would hold the
die face to a revolving disk with polishing
compound, Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis
wrote in Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia
of Morgan & Peace Dollars.
The whole basining process could be likened to
the making of reflective telescope mirrors, Q.
David Bowers wrote in A Guide Book of Morgan
Newly designed silver coins of 1916 and later
were designed so as not to need a basining of
the dies, and so, few prooflike Peace dollars
are found, Van Allen and Mallis wrote.
The basining process brings the reader to the
classifications of the "depth" of prooflikeness.
This degree of reflectivity was determined
partly by how fine a polishing compound was used
and partly by whether a final buffing was done,
Van Allen and Mallis wrote. Bowers said the
length of time spent in basining also matters.
Terms that are commonly used to express the
degrees are "semi-prooflike," plain "prooflike,"
"deep prooflike" and "deep mirror prooflike."
Some skip "deep prooflike" and go directly from
"prooflike" (definitely polished appearance) to
"deep mirror prooflike," abbreviated DMPL and
The degrees are measured first in how far away
an object may be and still be plainly reflected.
The question might be, can this text be read at
4 inches as it can at 2 inches?
The Official Guide to Coin Grading and
Counterfeit Detection, from the Professional
Coin Grading Service, emphasizes the "clarity"
of the object, not mere reflectivity.