Proof Set Fever Reaching Boiling Point
By Boyd Hargraves,
Since the first proof coins were struck by the U.S. Mint during the early 1830’s, they have been sought by collectors. The process resulted from a fire and the replacement of the old horse drawn equipment at the mint with new steam powered presses. This leads to the fact that proof coins are a process and not a grade, as believed by beginning collectors. In comparison to normal business strikes, they are carefully minted in relatively small numbers and given special treatment and storage by mint personnel. Prior to U.S. Mint history, the only proofs available from a Western Hemisphere mint were the presentation pieces struck at the mints in South America and
Prior to 1936, proof coin issues were sporadic, mostly issued and sold as single coins. Of complete sets, perhaps the best known and valuable is the 1834 King of Siam set which contained a wide variety of gold, silver, and copper coins, including a struck out of date 1804 Proof silver dollar! Beginning in 1936, complete sets of all circulating issues, one cent through fifty cents, were offered for sale to collectors by the mint. As a result of WWII emergencies, the first run of complete sets was short and only lasted from 1936 until 1942. Today, these are beyond the price barriers of most collectors, especially the acquisition of complete sets. However, single coins from the sets are occasionally available and demand strong prices. This is especially true of the proof
After the war, proof set production was resumed in 1950 and has continued to the present except for a brief break during the 1960’s, 1965-1968, and the special issue of Bicentennial 40% coins. Perhaps, as a result of association and my age, I see the silver sets minted, 1950-1964 as a practically unbelievable bargain. While it is true some of the sets are expensive, 1950 - 1956, many of the remainder can be purchased for under $25! This is for sets which include 90% silver proofs of
As indicated by the title of this article, the proof set market is boiling and pushing prices to record highs. For many years during the 1970’s and 1980’s the prices were low and showed very little future potential. During this time, the sets could be broken and sold separately for more than the price of a complete set. As a result, many of my nights during this time were spent placing proof coins in 2x2 cardboard holders. This activity decreased the available supply of complete sets and indirectly helped contribute to the current high prices. Such activities helped, but the fire was lit most definitely by the mint's introduction of the state quarter program in 1999.
According to the program, all of the states were asked to contribute designs for the quarters struck to represent them. Since 1999, fifty states have been commemorated with a special quarter beginning with the first to become part of the
To increase profits from the quarter programs and to provide an unbeatable product, the mint has struck and sold a proof set which includes all of the quarters for the given year, one in .900 fine silver and one in clad. In addition, the sets have also included a silver and a clad
As is true with a collection of any coin series, buyers of the modern proof sets are looking back and buying those from years past. With these, the options are practically unlimited and include all of the sets back to 1936. As previously stated, I like all of the silver sets and feel that those from 1950 - 1964 are extremely underpriced. Next, we have an excellent selection to choose from, including the 1976 Bicentennials, the Ike dollars, and a stretch of Susan B. Anthony's from 1979 to 1981 and then 1999. Again, of these sets my favorites are the special sets which include a commemorative dollar and a run of silver sets introduced in 1992. This is a great market with unlimited potential!