Guide to Proof Set Values
Proof sets are a favorite with collectors. Almost every year since 1936, proof sets have been issued for U.S. coins. Proof coins are not new, though. Since the middle of the 1850s there have been coins issued for numismatists and collectors rather than regular circulation. 1936 is when these started to be collected into proof and mint sets.
Proof coins are a specific type of coin with a sharp detail, fine edge and mirrorlike surface. They are sold at a premium and specially handled to avoid blemishes. They are also struck from unique planchets. These come in multiple different finishes including frosted (mirror field with satin or frosted letters and motifs), matte (sandblast or granular surface) and brilliant (mirror surface and sharp details in high relief).
These coins were gathered into sets (usually one of each major circulating coin) sold to the general public as an additional service of the U.S. Mint. Collectors tend to like them because of the quality. Each coin is given individual care when it is struck. Blanks are polished and cleaned, then hand fed to the coinage press. Each blank receives multiple die blows at slow speed, and the mint applies more pressure than usual to be sure no detail is missed. Modern proofs are sealed in special plastic cases after being handled with gloves or tongs at every step of the process. They also receive an individual inspection.
Proof Set Types
Proof sets have had a few hiatuses in production but have been mostly available from 1936 to the present day. From 1936 to 1942 all proof sets were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. 1942 brought two separate sets because of the mid-year change in nickel composition. 1943 saw proofs suspended.
In 1949, proof sets began to be struck again. Then there was another lapse from 1965 through 1967. A shortage in circulating coins was blamed on coin collectors, and proof sets went away as part of that backlash. A replacement called the Special Mint Set was created of non-proof coins, but it sold (and sells) for very low value. Proof sets were minted again in 1968 and continue through the present day.
As far as composition, early proof sets included the penny, nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar. These were created from 1936 to 1972. In 1973 the dollar coin was added, and this continued through 1981. In 1982 proof sets went back to penny through half dollar, then in 1999 the dollar was sold separately in addition to the set. The dollar was re-added in 2000.
Some sets from 1983 through 1997 contained commemorative coins, and these were sold at a premium above regular sets.
When the state and territorial quarters began, each year’s set of five designs (or six in the case of the territories) was included in the proof set. America the Beautiful quarters are available the same way. Presidential dollars have also been available in four-piece sets since 2007.
In 1976 and from 1992 to the present, Silver proof sets were struck. These contained coins struck in a Silver alloy. In 1976 this was 40% Silver, but in 1992 it was changed to 90% Silver. 2019 saw the purity upped to 99.9%.
There are other smaller sets that are available, including uncirculated sets as opposed to proofs, but these are not proofs and not packaged the same way. They also do not hold the same value.
Collecting Proof Sets
There are many proof sets that sell for very little, and condition does not tend to play a part in their value the same way due to their packaging. Some retail for a high price, though. These are proofs that are struck at non-standard mints or unique variants that were produced in limited runs due to supply or changes in die. The first proof set in 1936 sells for a high premium, as do any sets that have a coin with no S mint mark after 1968. After 1968, all proof production was transferred to the Philadelphia mint except for very rare cases, and these are prized by collectors.
The Price Guide
The PCGS Price Guide prices apply only to PCGS-graded coins. The PCGS Price Guide is a guide to assist the coin buying public in determining values for all important United States rare coins. The prices listed in the PCGS Price Guide are average dealer asking prices for PCGS-graded coins. The prices are compiled from various sources including dealer ads in trade papers, dealer fixed price lists and website offerings, significant auctions, and activity at major coin shows.Learn More