Dr. Sol Taylor

Collecting Proof Sets, 1968-1998

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, December 1, 2007

tarting in the 1960s with Mint Director Mary Brooks — a numismatist and strong supporter of the American coin collector — the packaging of our proof sets changed regularly to keep up with the market.
    Beginning in 1968 after a three-year layoff from proof sets, the San Francisco Mint was called back into duty with the job of manufacturing, packaging and selling the new proof sets. The new packaging arranged the coins 3x2 on a rectangular, hard plastic insert with a clear overlay sandwich in a blue, mint-embossed cardboard holder. The price of the newly designed package was raised to $5. In that first year, 3.01 million sets were issued.
    An extraordinary error was discovered in a few of these sets. A dime without the "S" mintmark was discovered. To date, only a very few have been found; apparently the error was discovered at the Mint, and such sets were removed from production. Today such a set would be valued at $14,000. The regular, error-free 1968 proof sets sell for about $7.
    The same format was used for the 1969-S proof sets. Just under 3 million sets were released, and their current market value is about $7.
    Then, in 1970, another remarkable error was discovered: another dime without the "S" mintmark. Most of these "problem" sets were removed from production at the Mint; today such a set is valued at about $1,500. Some 2,200 sets are believed to have been released.
    The regular sets come in two varieties: with the small-date cent (the scarcer of the two), valued at about $100; and the large-date cent, valued at about $13.
    In 1971, this time it was the nickel that lacked the "S" mintmark in a few sets; today they are valued at about $1,500. It is estimated some 1,600 of these error sets were released.
    The mintage figures for these years show:

• 1969-S - 2.9 million
• 1970-S - 2.6 million
• 1971-S - 3.2 million
• 1972-S - 3.2 million
• 1973-S - 2.7 million. Beginning in 1973, the Mint issue price was raised to $7, which lasted to the 1976-S issue.
• 1974-S - 2.6 million
• 1975-S - 2.8 million (included 25c, 50c and dollar with dates 1776-1976; no 25c, 50c or $1 coins were dated 1976)
• 1976-S - 4.1 million
• 1976-S - 3 piece bicentennial set, issue price $15, retail value about $20, 3.9 million
• 1977-S - 3.2 million, issue price raised to $9
• 1978-S - 3.1 million, last Ike dollar
• 1979-S - 3.6 million, first Susan B. Anthony dollar
• 1980-S - 3.5 million, issue price raised to $10
• 1981-S- 3.5 million, price raised to $11
• 1982-S - 3.8 million
• 1983-S - 3.1 million. A few sets were released with no-"S" dimes. These sets are valued at about $1,200.
• 1984-S - 2.7 million
• 1984-S - Prestige set: Series with a plush case and a commemorative coin — Olympic dollar, current value about $100. Issue price $59.
• 1986-S - 2.4 million
• 1986-S - Prestige set with Statue of Liberty half dollar; 599,000 issued, price $48.50. Current value $35.
• 1987-S - 3.79 million
• 1987-S Prestige set with Constitution dollar; issue price $45. Retail value $25.
• 1988-S - 3.03 million
• 1988-S - Prestige set with Olympic dollar issue; price $45, current value $35.
• 1989-S - 3.0 million
• 1989-S - Prestige set with Congress half dollar; issue price $45, retail value $45. (It should be noted that many such sets have failed to reach their original issue price, and the aftermarket value continues to be low.)
• 1990-S - 2.7 million; starting the annual downsizing of Proof set production. The 1990-S set was released with a small number of cents without the "S" mintmark. It was believed that only a few of the Prestige sets contained this error, and all unsold Prestige sets on hand were destroyed. The current value of this cent is about $7,000 with an MS-69 specimen reaching double that figure at an auction in 2007. It is believed that fewer than 25 exist.
• 1990-S - Prestige set with Eisenhower commemorative dollar issued at $5, retail value $25. 506,000 sets issued.
• 1991-S - Prestige set with Mt. Rushmore half dollar; issued at $59, retail about $70. Sets issued: 256,000.
• 1992-S - 2.6 million. Prestige set with Olympic half dollar; issued at $56 and retail value of $90. Only 183,000 sets issued.
• 1992-S - Starting in 1992, sets with silver 10c, 25c, and 50c were issued in 90-percent silver. 1 million sets issued at $21; retail value $15.
• 1992-S - Silver Premier set - 308,000 issued at $37; retail value $16.
• 1993-S - 2.4 million
• 1993-S - Prestige set Madison half dollar; 224,000 issued at $57, retail value $40.
• 1993-S - Silver set - 570,000 issued at $21, current value $40.
• 1993-S - Silver Premier set 191,000 issued at $37.50, current value about $40.

    The regular mintages of the proof sets during the 1990s fell each year from quantities of 2.6 million in 1990 to fewer than 2 million in 1996 and 1997.
    Issue prices for the regular proof sets rose to $12.50 and the silver sets $21 and the Prestige sets ranged from $48 to $57. The mintage figures for these sets varied from over 300,000 to just over 100,000.
    The key Prestige set of 1996-S with the Olympic half dollar with a mintage of 55,000 currently sells for close to $600. Because of their packaging, many of these sets were bought for gifts. They were packaged much like expensive jewelry in blue plush cases with a golden Mint emblem and housed in an outer cardboard box with Mint emblems.
    The 1997-S silver set with a mintage of 605,000 currently retails for about $50, while the Prestige set with a mintage of 80,000 with the Botanic dollar sells for about $200.
    Starting in 1999, the proof sets expanded to two sealed holders: one containing the new 50-state quarter series (five per year in the order the states were admitted to the Union) and the other regular-issue coins. The series will be completed when all 50 states have been represented, and additional quarters for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin islands, American Samoa, the District of Columbia and Guam have been added to the series.
    In an effort to offer new products, the Mint launched the Presidential dollar series in 2007 with three holders per proof set, including the four gold-colored Presidential dollars (they contain no gold).
    When that series has run its course, the Mint will no doubt find another marketing strategy to keep its presses humming with new products and marketing ideas.
    Once the domain of serious collectors (the pre-1936 issues), proof sets have evolved into elaborate gifts, marketed as high-end products and using the media, including television, to sell these products to new collectors as well as seasoned annual buyers.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.