Allen Rowe: U.S. Mint impacts coin-collecting demand
When dealing with longtime collectors, we see with great regularity many have bought government issued proof or mint sets, or both. Some collectors have progressed past them, but for many it’s the core of their coin collection holdings.
In the history of coins made here in the U.S., collectors have created an influence on how the mints serve collectors. Early in our coinage history people saved examples of coins made for circulation. In the early 1800s, the mint started making coins with special higher quality characteristics for collectors or gifts to dignitaries. As time passed, the mint began to take orders directly from collectors. By the late 1800s many were ordering directly from the mint, but the demand was still very low. Most coins struck in proof had mintages less than 1,000, and I believe the highest mintage was in 1883 when the mint struck 6,609 cents in proof. In 1916, the mint discontinued minting proofs for collectors and thus ended the early proof phase of our coinage.
In 1936, the mint reinstated the proof minting program and continued until 1942. The major differenc is now the proofs are issued in complete sets. After an eight-year hiatus the mint began once again issuing proof coins for collectors, only now they are only offered in complete sets.
At around the same time (1947) the mint also began a second program for collectors, the mint set issue. These were coins that were not struck by special means. Rather the mint took examples out of regular stock and packaged them as a complete set of issued coins by denomination and mint so collectors did not have to try to find the coins on their own.
As the collector market grew the demand for early proof issues sent the prices soaring. Seeing this collectors gained the impression buying proof sets — and mint sets followed — was a good means of investing in coins.
To further exasperate the value perception in coins we left the silver standard in the late 1960s. Coins now minted contained no silver making the previously minted coinage worth more than its face value. Due to this fact, the proof and mint sets made with silver also rose on this principle. And collectors again had a perception of value in investing by buying proof and mint sets.
The U.S. mint was able to capitalize on this phenomenon by making even more sets for sale. By the late 50s sets were starting to sell in the millions, and by the 60s, multi-millions. The mint now had a steady customer base to sell into and continued selling with vengeance. The wave continued into the 2000s with the only thing slowing sales being the fact the mint was now offering so many other products many were choosing other options.
With the recession hitting in 2008 the tide shifted a little and we began to see a decline in the proof and mint set arena. Since then prices have continued to fall and the sets suffering the most were those that were made in mass quantity and contained no precious metal. These were the sets issued in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Today many of these sets trade for around their face value on the wholesale market. They have become a bane to most coin dealers and newer collectors are not seeking them out.
If you are a collector who has these in your collection, now may not be the time to sell. And if you’re a newer collector, it may be a good buying opportunity. But remember, many of these sets may never see the demand they once did ever again and there are plenty of them to be had.
Allen Rowe is the owner of Northern Nevada Coin in Carson City.