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To what rite do proof sets belong now?

Proof sets went on sale yesterday. I wonder if this is considered a rite of passage as it was when I ordered my first proof set at the age of 13.

There are similarities and differences. I ordered the 1969 proof set by mail just before the Nov. 1, 1968, opening of sales. Nowadays online and telephone orders are quicker and more convenient.

The 1969 set was still a novelty. Proof sets had been abolished for 1965-1967 and only in 1968 did they make a comeback. They took a new form. They were in a rigid plastic holder rather than the polyester film packet. The coins had mintmarks. This was only the second year where that was true. They also had a high price: $5. Collectors have long memories and they were still comparing them to the $2.10 issue price of 1964.

There was also a speculative component. The 1968 proof set was doing rather well on the secondary market at the time, so would-be buyers sensed potential profits.

There are new elements to this year’s set, too. It is the first to include the four Presidential dollars. It also includes the Sacagawea dollar, five state quarters, a half dollar, dime, nickel and cent, making 14 coins in all. That’s a big set. It takes three plastic holders to contain them all. The 1969 set was just one.

The price is also pretty big, though I have not heard anyone complain yet: $26.95.

Put in perspective, that price is almost identical to the 1969 set in inflation-adjusted terms. You have to divide current prices by roughly 5 to get an approximation.

With the 1969 set, the issue price was 5.49 times the 91 cents face value. The 2007 set is 3.90 times the $6.91 face value. By this measure, the current proof set is actually cheaper than the 1969 set.

All of these thoughts and more can go through the heads of potential buyers. The new coins add novelty. The fact the Presidential dollars are in the first year of issue add the speculative component. I wonder, though, if that same sense of anticipation grips the buyer as he places his order? I hope so. That is a part of what has kept me in coins for the almost 39 years since my first proof order was mailed.

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