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Who can save proof and mint sets?


Dave Motl, Acting Deputy Director of the U.S. Mint

The Mint was very kind to arrange a half-hour interview for me with Dave Motl, the Acting Deputy Director.

We sat down at the close of the first day of the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money Aug. 1.

The story I wrote last week included information about the new palladium bullion coin coming in September; that he did not think a household order limit would be effective for Enhanced Uncirculated Sets, and he was making a major commitment to improving customer service.

Toward the end of our meeting I asked him whether the Mint would do something to promote its proof set and mint set sales. If you follow the Mint Statistics page, you know they are declining.

I suppose I could have put the question in the form of a plea: “Save the proof sets and mint sets.”

Collectors of my generation are still emotionally attached to these basic sets. Many of us have divorced ourselves intellectually from them. By that I mean how many years do you want to lose money on them before you stop ordering?

My divorce from these two sets was finalized just over a decade ago. Without checking a hard-to-access deposit box, I think the last sets I ordered were in 2006.

I spend the money I save on other coins.

But a part of me is still back in 1968 when the first proof set to be made in four years hit the market. I was anxious to own it. Too anxious. I bought it on the secondary market for $15. Over time, I lost something like 80 percent of its value.

Like the instructions on the shampoo bottle, I kept lathering, rinsing and repeating.

For 1969, I was aware enough to order the set directly from the Mint. Cost was $5. Over time, I lost money on that set as well.

How many times do you do this before you wise up? For me it was four decades.

But then, there were sets like the 1970 mint set that had what turned out to be a scarce coin in it, the 1970-D half.

The possibility of getting a scarce coin kept motivating me like a lottery ticket buyer.

But there was more to it than that. Back then, anyone who wanted to stay current with U.S. coin issues simply had to buy the two sets and they were done. In 1968, that would have cost $7.50.

Now staying current with Mint issues costs more than 1,000 times that considering all the gold, silver and platinum issues.

But many doughty collectors remained loyal through the years to the simplicity of the standard proof and mint sets.

It would be a shame to see these sets come to an end when they loomed so large in the minds of so many of us for so long.

But what can the Mint do? It cannot command the secondary market to reward the buyers of these sets.

Motl did say he would continue to produce them as they are mandated by Congress. That is half the future. Who has the answer to declining sales?

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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