When the United States Mint began producing proof sets annually in 1950 collectors had one kind to choose from. Today, the Mint offers five different annual proof sets.
And that’s where the confusion for collectors sets in.
“I’ll have customers come in and ask about buying a proof set and I’ll say ‘Which one?,’” said John Krupka, owner of Point Coin, Stevens Point, Wis. “There’s the 14-coin clad proof set, the 14-coin silver proof set, the Presidential dollar proof set, the National Park quarter clad proof set and the National Park silver quarter proof set.”
It’s gotten to the point where you have to list them all because there are so many different proof sets out there, he said.
“Then they’ll often give me a blank look, because they’re familiar with the single annual proof sets of the ’70s and ’80s,” he said.
It’s like the Mint decided that they could make more money if they had different sets to market, he said.
“I think it’s all a bit overdone, with all these different proof sets,” Krupka said.
Gary Rosencrans, owner of Gary’s Coins, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., said that the different proof sets the Mint offers were fighting for collector attention.
“The Mint is, in a way, its own worst competitor, issuing five to six different proof sets each year,” he said.
The 14-coin clad and silver proof sets continue to be the most popular sets purchased, he said.
“A lot of people buying a yearly gift for their children or grandchildren purchase the 14-coin silver proof set or the 14-coin clad proof set if they want to save some money,” he said.
A good amount of 14-coin clad and silver proof sets are also purchased by collectors, he said.
“Those collectors are typically looking for the annual proof coins for their collections,” he said.
Overlap between the 14-coin proof sets and other proof set offerings kept sales of some sets low, he said.
“The National Parks quarter clad proof set is the worst seller of all the proof sets, because collectors can just purchase the 14-coin clad proof set to receive the quarters, as well as the other proof coins minted that year,” Rosencrans said.
Krupka said that his worst seller was the Presidential proof set.
“It sells well to the Presidential dollar collectors who come in on a regular basis to buy the Philadelphia and Denver Presidential dollars as they release. The general collector, however, isn’t really interested,” he said.
Some proof sets from the Mint, however, did sell well, he said.
“The 14-coin silver proof set sells really well to collectors,” he said.
However, with silver prices dropping, the profit in selling the silver proof sets was dropping too, he said.
“The proof sets are easy to buy from the Mint, but hard to sell well on the secondary market,” he said.
Sales also reflected the waning interest the general collector had toward proof sets throughout the year, he said.
“It’s not that people aren’t interested in them anymore, but it’s the summer and the interest just isn’t there right now,” Krupka said.
While his sales also slackened during the summer, Rosencrans said the gold Kennedy half dollar was partially to blame.
“The proof set business took a hiatus because of all the interest in the gold Kennedy half dollar. The collector really has to think of what they want to spend their money on,” Rosencrans said.
There have only been a few modern proof sets that kept collector interest and higher values, he said.
“There were a couple of years, 2008 and 2012, where the Mint policy suspended sales early and left customers without sets. We had to buy proof sets those years on the secondary market,” he said.
The 2012 proof sets are typically between $90 and $91 in retail prices and the 2008 proof sets are running about $50, he said.
“The values for those sets have remained very consistent over the years, even increasing somewhat,” he said.
Krupka said that collector interest has been strong in the proof sets of the 1950s.
“The proof sets of the 1950s have really come up in value over time,” he said.
He also sees a market in selling sets of proof coins taken from 14-coin clad and silver sets.
“I’ve put together sets of all the clad or silver state quarters in nice Capital holders. Those sell really well because the collector can see all the high quality proof state quarters in a nice display,” he said.