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Down Payment on the Future
May 19, 2011

I had an e-mail reminiscing about when collector proof sets and mint sets from the U.S. Mint were so much cheaper and lamenting their high cost today.

Certainly prices are higher, but I thought I would put them in perspective. When I bought my first mint set in 1968, it cost $2.50. Today if I want to buy a mint set, not only has the Mint given it the very long name of 2011 United States Mint Uncirculated Coin Set, the price is $31.95.

If you are Rip Van Winkle and you went to sleep in 1968 and woke up in 2011, I guess you definitely would be set back on your heels.

However, not just the price has change. The content of the set has, too. That $2.50 1968 set contained one Denver half dollar, a Philadelphia and Denver quarter, dimes from the same two mints, a Denver nickel and a San Fransisco nickel, plus cents from Philly, Denver and San Francisco.

Total face value was $1.33.

The price of the set was about double the face value.

Move forward to 2011, the coin count has gone up from 10 pieces to 28, and 10 of them are $1 coins, four Presidential and one Native American coin from Philadelphia and Denver.

There are two half dollars.

The quarter population has swelled to 10 pieces, five designs from each mint. Then there are two dimes, two nickels and two cents.

Face value is $13.82.

The price is definitely more than double face, so the Mint has expanded its margin somewhat.

I think we would all like to pay 1968 prices for houses, or cars or mint sets, but we wouldn’t want to go back to our 1968 incomes. I certainly wouldn’t since what I was earning came from my paper route.

The price of a mint set is much easier on my income today than it was in 1968. I suspect the same is true for most collectors.

And I know that out there somewhere are new collectors who will buy their very first mint set this year. That $31.95 will be the milestone that will stick in their minds for the next 40 years.

Then they will lament the fact that mint sets were so much cheaper in 2011 than in 2051.

That’s life. That’s the hobby we’ve chosen. There is a lot of rich experience in the years between.

By the way, if you haven’t signed up for my online seminar at 4 p.m. Eastern time today, there is still time. Go to and select “Online Seminars” at the top of the left column list of features.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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