Learn Grading: Proof, Proof Cameo and Proof Ultra Cameo

Posted on 5/8/2018

This new monthly feature in the NGC eNewsletter promotes a better understanding of NGC’s grades and designations.

NGC uses a numeric grade to succinctly describe a problem-free coin's condition. Certain coins, however, require a more nuanced description of their condition and appearance. For these coins, NGC graders follow the numeric grade with a designation, often called a "Strike Character."

2017 “In the Eyes of the Timber Wolf” Gold Kilogram $2,500 coin - obverse mule of Silver $250 Kilogram, graded NGC PF 70 Ultra Cameo
Click image to enlarge.

Proofs are coins that are specially struck, typically for sales directly to collectors. Many proofs exhibit varying degrees of “frost” on the design elements. This is achieved when the surrounding fields are polished on the coining die to give them a brilliant finish. The design elements are either untouched or sandblasted to have a matte finish. As the dies are used repeatedly to strike coins, this effect can fade.

NGC uses Cameo and Ultra Cameo designations after the numeric grade to describe the degree of frost present on the design elements. If little or no frost is present, no designation will be used. (Note: Ultra Cameo is generally synonymous with Deep Cameo, another common term in the hobby.)

Frosting in lettering and devices is often achieved by sandblasting the die and then polishing only the fields to a brilliant finish (which are also referred to as mirrored fields). As the dies are used repeatedly to create coins, their ability to produce this effect can fade.

A 2013-W Silver Eagle (left) with an Ultra Cameo designation, and a 2013-W Reverse Proof Silver Eagle.
Click images to enlarge.

On the obverse of the 2013-W Proof Silver Eagle shown above, Liberty and the sun are frosted while the surrounding fields are deeply mirrored to achieve an "Ultra Cameo" effect. In contrast, on a "reverse proof," such as the 2013-W Reverse Proof Silver Eagle (above), the Liberty and the sun are deeply mirrored, while the fields are frosted. (NGC does not offer Cameo or Ultra Cameo designations for Reverse Proofs.)

NGC automatically applies the Cameo and Ultra Cameo designations to qualifying coins at no additional charge. To earn the Cameo or Ultra Cameo designation, the coin must show the contrast between the fields and devices on both sides.

Here is an illustration showing proof coins with different designations, indicating varying degrees of frost on the devices (also called design elements):

Proof Proof Cameo Proof Ultra Cameo
Click images to enlarge.

The NGC Census lists Proof (PF), Proof Cameo (PFCA) and Proof Ultra Cameo (PFUC) on separate lines. For instance, for the 1980 Equestrian Silver 30 Yuan, as of May 2018, NGC has graded 18 in PF, 406 in PFCA and 347 in PFUC. The NGC US Coin Price Guide also distinguishes between these designations.

The degree of mirroring and frosting is imparted on a coin at the time it is struck. Professional conservation by NCS, therefore, cannot change the degree of contrast between the fields and devices. In fact, such a change would be considered to be “Altered Surfaces,” and such a coin would not be encapsulated by NGC. It is, however, sometimes possible that NCS can remove surface contaminants such as residue that are hiding the underlying contrast.

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