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Proof Sets Worth Reassembling
By Mark Benvenuto, Coins Magazine
May 30, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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Every collector has coins that are his or her favorites, and almost always there is a reason behind that favorite. Maybe a person became a silver dollar collector because his or her grandparents gave out silver dollars at Christmas. Perhaps a person fell in love with half dollars because when they were a newspaper carrier, someone tipped them with a 50-cent piece.

There are numerous reasons for any of us to focus on one area of the hobby or another. But whatever the interest, wherever the focus, we can all agree that proofs are simply the best of the best.

During the last few decades, proof sets have been sold directly from the Mint in rigid plastic containers that in general do a good job protecting the coins from the elements. So it is a bit of a surprise for many collectors to learn that back before the 1960s, proof sets simply came wrapped in a flimsy plastic set of sleeves that were not really made for long-term storage. This in turn meant that over the course of years plenty of proof sets were broken up.

Their coins might have been added to albums that were for specific denominations. The sets may even have passed to a relative or loved one after the collector who had purchased them passed on, and were the sold or even spent. Whatever the reason, many proof sets have been separated over the course of decades. So, one worthy collecting goal today might be to reassemble some of the proof sets of the past. Let’s focus on a few, and see just how difficult this endeavor might be.

1964 proof set
This first entry on my list might seem like something of a letdown in that it isn’t a long forgotten exotic set of U.S. coins. It consists of only five coins, all of which are basically the same design as the coins we use today. But here we have a set of coins that is almost 50 years old and includes the only year of the Kennedy half dollar series in which this coin was made with a 90 percent silver alloy. We also have a year in which proofs were coined to a tally of almost 4 million sets. That high number translates to small numbers today, at least when we check price tags.

As with all of the proof sets I am going to list, the price of the half dollar will end up being the lion’s share of any expense involved in reassembling that set. But in the case of the 1964 set, the good news is that a proof 1964 Kennedy half dollar is almost dirt cheap. The only ones that may cost a bit are those graded Proof-67, PR-68, or even higher.

But if you do come across a piece like this, determine for yourself how much you are willing to spend, and whether or not you wish to purchase an example that has been encapsulated by a third-party grading service. These encapsulated, or slabbed, coins are always the safest bet, but because Kennedy half dollars are so inexpensive, it can be difficult to find encapsulated pieces. After all, it costs money to encapsulate them in the first place (possibly as much as this particular 50-cent piece is worth).

1963 proof set
Moving back just one year gets us to the last year in which the U.S. Mint pounded out Franklin half dollars. This then becomes the first proof set we might be able to reassemble that includes a design we no longer use. While the Franklin half too often lives in the shadow of the considerably more popular Walking Liberty half, in 1963 the Mint produced more than 3 million proof sets. That ought to get this half—and all the other proofs of that year—a permanent place in the sun.

Once again, the half dollar will be the most expensive of these five coins, but also once again, the smaller denominations are so inexpensive that trying to find them becomes downright fun. A high end proof Franklin half won’t run more than $50, and the Washington quarter and Roosevelt dime complete the silver you’ll need to put this proof set back together.

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1957 proof set
OK, if these first two proof sets seem a bit easy for you, move back a couple of years to 1957. This was the first year in what is generally called the modern proof set era in which the total number of sets went up over 1 million. It’s less than the other two, but it’s still 1 million proofs. That means it’s still rather easy to find.

Perhaps because the 1957 proof set is a bit older than the other two, the price tag for the Franklin half dollar has gone up a bit. For this year, a person will probably need to part with $50 to $75 to land a handsome-looking specimen. On the other hand, the prices associated with the quarter and the dime from the set haven’t really moved upward. And once again, if you are going for the entire 1957 proof set, the nickel and one-cent prices are very reasonable. In short, even though folks split up plenty of proof sets 57 years ago, the cost of remaking one today is not all that high.

1954 proof set
Of the four sets I have listed, this is by far the least common, with only 233,300 officially noted in the Mint records. It doesn’t take much in terms of math skills to realize that the proof set program really took off in the 1950s, starting with tens of thousands of sets and ending with millions. But the comparatively lower mintage doesn’t actually make the set extremely rare—there are several earlier years that are less common—yet it is the only one I have listed thus far that rings in with a number far below 1 million.

Yet again, when it comes to proof coins, the Franklin half dollar will be the big ticket item for this proof set. As I have already mentioned, a slabbed example of this coin is probably the safe way to go. Also be sure you like the look, the eye appeal, of the particular piece you want to buy. You will probably have to part with $200 or so for this 50-cent piece, which is significantly more than the other three halves we’ve looked at. But it’s not an impossible purchase.

Even with this lower number of proof sets, the cost of the 1954 Washington quarter and Roosevelt dime are not particularly steep (each is about $20). The toughest part of the hunt might be actually finding a 1954 proof Washington or proof Roosevelt that someone bothered to slab. The Jefferson nickel and the Lincoln cent for 1954 are also not all that much trouble, certainly not when it comes to cost.

Overall, the 1954 proof set can be a neat one to reassemble. It is far less common than any of the more recent sets. Because of the passage of time there is more possibility that any remaining coins have seen some mishandling, and are thus of lower grade. But the entire set can probably still be had by the patient collector for not much more than $300. That’s not too bad at all for the best the Mint had to offer almost 60 years ago.

Other sets
If you’ve gone this far, you might want to go a bit farther still and do some personal price checking into other proofs, to see if there are any other years you could reassemble. Perhaps one of these dates has some special meaning for you—the birth of a friend or relative, perhaps. We’ve seen that as you push back through time, the prices for proof coins do rise. But the fun of this sort of collecting is the hunt, and finding the best coins you can to reassemble proof sets from past days.

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