Looking at my calendar in preparation for this issue, it occurred to me that I have an anniversary to celebrate.
On Nov. 1, it will be the 50th anniversary of my placing my first order for proof sets with the United States Mint. On this date in 1968, the Mint began accepting orders for 1969 sets.
A half century ago, the order period for proof sets began a couple of months prior to the year of issue. This gave the Mint up to 14 months to process orders, produce the sets, and mail them to customers.
Imagine someone from today, who is used to rapid or even overnight delivery, time traveling backward to a point where sets might get delivered six months after order placement – or maybe not. The wait could be even longer.
One thing that 1968 had in common with today is eager collectors jumping on a desirable item as fast as they could.
The 1969 proof set sold out in six days. That is almost Internet speed. And it was all done by order cards and handwritten letters with personal checks included.
I was not old enough to have my own personal checks. I made a check out on my father’s account. He signed it. I sent it in.
The amount? Oh, I ordered two sets at $5 each. That cost me a week’s earnings on my paper route, $10. My Dad spotted me the cost of a stamp. He had a roll of the six centers on hand for his own bill-paying.
When did I get delivery? I can’t remember precisely. It was many months later. The blue box with the postmark on it that the sets came in I kept for about 20 years before I tossed it out.
Early delivery was important then also. Those lucky enough to receive the first shipments sold them for a profit to their friendly neighborhood coin dealer or to the full-page advertisers in Numismatic News. I wasn’t among the lucky ones.
As you can see, collector behavior has changed little in the intervening years. We move faster, but the order / sellout / disappointment or giddy excitement cycle was just the same then.
Even with numerous full-page proof set buy ads in the paper, some collectors concluded that there were back-door arrangements with the Mint that allowed some dealers to get an ample supply ahead of everyone else.
Though it did not happen to me that first year, there were some years where I did get delivery on the early side of things, and I did sell a set at a profit. I always kept one set for my collection.
The times I earned a profit this way saw those extra funds plowed into some other coin purchase.
Time has marched on. Numbers have gotten bigger. Now there is a $4.95 postage and handling fee. It was free delivery in 1968. Wait a minute: in the Internet age, that seems backwards, doesn’t it?
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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