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Clad proof set fades away

How many collectors are there who still buy proof sets from the U.S. Mint every year?
That is simple question that has no simple answer because the U.S. Mint sells so many differentiated proof products.

In addition to the standard clad proof set, collectors attracted to proofs might buy the current five-quarter proof set, or the four-coin Presidential dollar proof set. Then there is the silver proof set to consider and its silver quarters proof set cousin.

I sometimes find myself fondly recalling the years when there was only one set to buy or to follow.

But since the Prestige Set was introduced in 1983, collectors have had more than one proof option.

Before then, buyers could be counted on to regularly acquire between three million and four million sets a year.

That number range looks mighty big compared to the 2009 proof set sales number of 1,477,967, but then you can add in the 694,406 number for the silver proof set, the 624,186 six-quarter set, and the 627,925 four-coin Presidential set. I supposed I should also throw in the silver six-quarter set and its total of 298,612.

You add all of those number together and they add up to 3,723,096 – which seems to be right about where we have always been.

But are we?

I saw a recent ad in Numismatic News that offered clad proof sets of 1984-1993 at prices that are way, way under issue prices.

Why is that if there are as many proof set collectors?

I expect the silver set buyers don’t buy them because they aren’t silver. Presidential set buyers probably don’t buy them because they do not contain any $1 coins. The collectors of state and other themed quarters struck since 1999 probably don’t buy them because the quarter in the 1980s was just the standard Washington/eagle design.

My conclusion? Apparently with ever more specialization and focus by buyers, the old-fashioned, one-size fits all set is in the process of falling by the wayside.

Perhaps the Mint should sell proof coins individually as it did in the 19th century. Then we might put a stake through the current hobby’s packaging fetish – but that is a topic for another day.