What Is a Cameo Coin?

By Kent Ninomiya
What Is a Cameo Coin?

The term "cameo coin" is used in coin collecting to refer to a circulation coin that has proof-like qualities or a proof coin that has unusually spectacular contrast. A cameo coin has empty areas that reflect light like a mirror. The raised part of a cameo coin is well-defined and frosty in appearance. Cameo coins are among the most sought-after in numismatics and command a significant premium when sold.

Cameo Coin Quality

The designation, cameo coin, addition, the coin's grade

The designation of cameo coin is in addition to the coin's grade. It describes the overall appearance of the coin and not necessarily the specific features on it. However, for a coin to be considered cameo, it must be an extremely high quality uncirculated coin. For a coin to be considered a cameo coin, it must grade at least MS-65 or better for standard coins, and PF-65 or better for proof coins. If a coin with cameo qualities were to be handled and rubbed against other objects, it would quickly lose its cameo appearance. Oils from fingers dull a cameo coin's luster, and contact with other objects dings the surfaces, making them less reflective and frosty.


Cameo Morgan Silver Dollar

A coin that is "brilliant uncirculated" or a high quality proof is not necessarily a cameo coin. An ordinary brilliant uncirculated coin will not have mirror-like fields or frosty raised areas. A brilliant proof coin will have reflecting fields, but there will be very little contrast with the raised areas. A cameo coin has frosty raised images and distinctly reflecting fields that contrast. It must be obvious to the naked eye from arm's length.

Deep Cameo Coins

Coins that exhibit exceptional cameo qualities can attain the designation of deep cameo. A deep cameo coin has a spectacular mirrored background and deeply frosted images. The contrast should be dramatic. The raised areas will be so frosted that they will appear white while the background appears to be black. This is despite the fact that the coin is actually one color. Deep cameo coins are extremely rare and command a very high price.

Obverse and Reverse

Cameo Reverse

For a coin to be considered cameo or deep cameo, it must have the exact same contrast on both sides of the coin. It is fairly common for a coin to have a cameo appearance on one side but not the other. It is also not unusual for a coin to be deep cameo on one side but just cameo on the other. The reason for this is because coins are stamped with two different dies, one on each side. Cameo and deep cameo coins result from the first few stampings from a die when it is new and well polished. Both sides, of course, are not always in the same condition. A coin can not be designated cameo or deep cameo if it does not match on both sides.


Cameo and deep cameo coins are worth much more money than other coins of the same grade. This is because of their beauty and rarity. The most valuable cameo and deep cameo coins are dated before 1976. Fewer were made and survive to this day. Since 1976, the United States Mint has produced more cameo and deep cameo coins using better equipment. It is much easier to find coins like these among recently minted coins.

About the Author

Kent Ninomiya is a veteran journalist with over 23 years experience as a television news anchor, reporter and managing editor. He traveled to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Ninomiya holds a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences with emphasis in history, political science and mass communications from the University of California at Berkeley.