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Where did the speculative impulse go?

The regular clad proof set will be offered for sale on Friday by the U.S. Mint. This used to be considered the royalty of current coins in the minds of American collectors.

Of course, you have to go back quite a few years in the hobby to remember when this was our attitude.

I first began reading numismatic periodicals in 1967.

At that time no proof sets had been issued since 1964.

Collectors were offered Special Mint Sets of the new clad coins for the years 1965, 1966 and 1967. These were usually described as better than an uncirculated coin set, which was what we all called mint sets, and inferior to a proof set.

The official attitude was collectors should consider themselves lucky to get any kind of set at all. There was a coin shortage. The Mint was working hard to meet demand for circulating coins.

Americans were hoarding silver coins. The Mint needed to get clad substitutes out fast.

In recent years, perhaps the closest thing we experienced to how collectors felt about no proof sets in the 1960s was when the Mint surprised us by offering no proof American Eagle coins in 2009.

The law in 2009 was interpreted to mean that the Mint could not offer proofs as long as it was unable to meet demand for the bullion coin versions of these gold and silver coins.

Collectors in 2009 were more outspokenly angry.

In the 1960s, it was more like resignation. That’s just the way it was we must have thought. Certainly I did. I was 12 years old and did not have any prior experiences to fall back on.

In fact, I did not even order the 1968 clad proof set when it was offered. Why I did not, I cannot say. Clearly I was not drooling at the prospect of buying the first proof set in four years.

Issue price was $5, up from $2.10 in 1964. The only silver in it was the 40-percent alloy half dollar. The five coins in the set had a face value of 91 cents.

In 1968, my attitude changed. Secondary market activity boosted prices to multiples of issue price for the 1968 proof set. How I regretted not ordering it from the Mint.

A friend of mine got delivery of his set and I was even more regretful about not ordering it.

I broke down and paid $15 for a set on the secondary market not long after I had seen my friend’s set.

It was a wonderful feeling when it arrived in the mail. It was the first proof set I had ever owned.

I felt like a genius when it went to $20, but as every collector probably knows, the price then eventually fell below issue price. But it took a while.

In the meantime, I was waiting and ready when it was time to order the 1969 proof set.

So was the rest of the hobby.

There was a six-day sellout of the 1969 set when orders were accepted Nov. 1, 1968. Over 3 million sets were sold.

These were days well before the Internet.

At first, secondary market prices also soared for the 1969 proof set, but then came down fast.

These proof sets were my first acquaintance with the speculative impulse.

It would not be the last.

This is what I think of when clad proof sets go on sale each year.

However, it has been a long time since a clad proof set has elicited any kind of speculator urge on my part.

Anyone paying the $31.95 issue price is much more likely to be motivated purely by the collector impulse.

In the 2016 proof set there are three Presidential dollars, Nixon, Ford and Reagan; one Native American dollar; a Kennedy half dollar; five America the Beautiful quarters; a Roosevelt dime; a Jefferson nickel, and a Lincoln cent.

I know for someone somewhere this will be the first proof set he or she will ever buy.

I wonder what this first-time buyer will be thinking about the 2016 set nearly 50 years from now.

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