In mid-1964, collectors were put on notice that the U.S. Mint would
not offer Proof or Mint sets in 1965. Instead, Special Mint sets were
produced at the San Francisco Assay Office in 1965, and also in 1966
The sets represented a compromise between the traditional
Uncirculated Mint sets and Proof sets during a period when the Mint
was focused on producing coins for circulation. A major coinage
shortage had arisen, and in addition, the dime, quarter dollar and
half dollar had been changed from a 90 percent silver alloy to
copper-nickel and silver-copper clad compositions.
The $4 issue price of the 1965 Special Mint sets was nearly double
the $2.10 that 1964 Proof sets cost. The 1965 Special Mint set mintage
of 2,360,000 was substantially less than the 1964 Proof set mintage of
3,950,762, although greater than the 1,008,108 1964 Uncirculated Mint
Coins in Special Mint sets were struck once on a high-tonnage
press from polished dies. The coins are generally uniformly brilliant,
but most examples lack the full mirror finish that a Proof coin would have.
In 1966, U.S. Mint Director Eva Adams wrote in her annual report
that the SMS coins would “have a higher relief than regular coins and
be better in appearance than any of the regular uncirculated sets
heretofore issued.” That statement proved true, although most SMS
coins visually fell short of duplicating Proof coins. A handful of
coins from the Special Mint sets are found with frosted devices and
brilliant fields, resulting in handsome cameo contrast. In 1996,
Professional Coin Grading Service added designations for Cameo and
Deep Cameo for 1965 to 1967 Special Mint set coins.
Cameo and Deep Cameo designations are generally most commonly
found on the 1967 SMS issues and these are rare, yet accessible coins.
For example, a 1967 Kennedy half dollar graded Mint State 67 Ultra
Cameo by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. sold at a March 2011 Heritage
auction for $575. For comparison, a non-Cameo MS-67 SMS example sold
for just $36 recently.
The 1965 SMS issues in Cameo and Deep Cameo are substantially
rarer, and in 2008, an example graded MS-67 Deep Cameo sold at a
Heritage auction for $12,650. For contrast, an SMS issue from 1965 in
PCGS MS-67 Cameo sold for $300 in March.
Steven Roach is associate editor of Coin World. Email him