Proof coins seem to be on the minds of more readers than usual this week. I had an e-mail from one who expressed surprise that the Mint did not sell rolls of proof cents that he had seen advertised.
He sent me an e-mail in response to the poll question about whether he planned to buy the new two-roll set of Union Shield uncirculated cents for $8.95.
Perhaps he has a point. Perhaps the Mint should consider selling proof coins by the roll. Currently, rolls are assembled by dealers who break up proof sets.
Usually, the higher denominations are more sought after than the lower denominations, so proof cents and nickels and such like are blown out the door at near giveaway prices.
Even proof silver coins have been rolled and sold at hardly more than silver value in the past. I know. I bought a few.
Perhaps it is time for the Mint to evaluate the current business model. Since 1936, coin collectors have come to think of proof coins as something that can be obtained only as a set. For most of the years since then, this was true. That’s three generations of collectors.
If all you want is the cent of the current year, paying $29.95 for the clad proof set seems a waste of money. That is why a cottage industry developed in the heyday of proof set demand to break up sets and sell off the parts to the collectors who wanted them. And this was done in an era when collectors balked at paying $2.10 for the full set.
In the 19th century, proof coins could be purchased individually and as sets of the lower denominations. This allowed collectors of the era to buy what they could afford. If they had been forced to buy the full set, including gold coins up to the $20 denomination, there would be very few proof Indian cents or Shield nickels to delight collectors today.
What would happen if the Mint started selling proof coins by the roll? Already the Mint is selling pieces of the proof set when it sells Presidential dollar proof sets, or state quarter proof sets, or last year’s four-cent proof set.
Proof rolls might be the next logical step. Collectors used to complain about excessively fancy packaging; then they loved it. Perhaps the pendulum in these hard times is swinging back to being just about the coins.
Why not expand the half dollar roll and bag program to include rolls of proof half dollars as a test? I will avoid stepping on the land mine of advocating proof coins by the bag, because that would defeat the purpose of making proofs in the first place. But you get the idea. If someone wants 20 proof half dollars, why not give them to him as a roll and save 20 innocent proof sets from being broken up?
The end result might be a better match between the proof coins collectors want and what the Mint actually produces.
This flies in the face of the old idea of completeness that proof sets cater to, but nowadays it has become an obsolete concept as there are too many current issues to interest most collectors, or to be afforded by them.