US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for April 23, 2018

The 10-coin 2018-S Silver Proof set goes on sale April 24 at noon Eastern Time. Shown here is the 2017 edition.

Images courtesy of U.S. Mint.

The 2018 Silver Proof set goes on sale April 24, and for many collectors, placing an order for one of the sets will be a familiar ritual, one performed every year.

The Silver Proof set is just one of several Proof sets planned for 2018, and has been offered annually in its current form since 1992. However, the set has many origin dates, sold in forms that reflect the changing nature of collecting in the United States.

1858: The ‘first’ Proof sets

Although the Mint made small numbers of Proof coins prior to 1858, many were made either for presentation purposes with only small numbers sold to collectors, unofficially. In 1858, though, public sales of Proof sets to collectors began officially. Starting in 1858, collectors could buy sets of the minor and silver coins, sets of the gold coins, and complete sets of all of a given year’s coins. Few of the early sets survive intact, with many broken up for individual collections. Sets were not sold in special packaging, although some collectors had custom display cases produced. This era of Proof set sales ended in 1916 with the end of Proof coin production.

1936: Proof production resumes

The Mint resumed production of Proof coins in 1936, although by this time just five denominations were in production: the Lincoln cent, Indian Head 5-cent coin, Winged Liberty Head dime, Washington quarter dollar, and Walking Liberty half dollar. Mint customers could order individual coins or complete sets; the result was that during this period, Proof mintages differed by denomination each year, and there are no records as to the number of complete sets sold. Individual coins were placed in cellophane sleeves that were stapled together with other coins in the order, and they were shipped in an appropriately sized box or envelope, report Ron Guth and Bill Gale in their book on Proof and Uncirculated Coin sets. This era ended in 1942 when the Mint ceased production of Proof coins because of World War II demands on production.

1950: Back to complete sets

When Proof set production resumed in 1950, Proof coins were no longer offered individually; customers had to order a complete five-coin set. As with all previous Proof coin production for public sales, all Proof coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. From 1950 to mid-1955, coins were placed in individual cellophane sleeves and then into a cardboard box. Later in 1955, a new package was introduced — a plastic sleeve with compartments for each coin, the sleeve placed into an envelope (the flat pack packaging, as it is called). This era ended in 1964 when Proof sets were again placed on hiatus

1968: New Mint, new compositions, new holder

Proof set production resumed in 1968 though it was shifted from the Philadelphia Mint to the San Francisco Assay Office (as that latter facility was then officially named). The three coins formerly made of 90 percent silver were now made in one of two compositions — the dime and quarter dollar in copper-nickel clad, and the half dollar in silver-copper clad. In 1971, the half dollar alloy was switched to copper-nickel clad, ending the era of silver coin production, at least for a time. The coins were housed in a hard plastic display case stored inside a cardboard box; variations of that packaging approach remain in use today.

1992: Silver returns in a special set

Starting in 1983, U.S. Mint officials experimented with various Proof set options, launching in that year a Prestige Proof set; it contained the regular Proof set plus a Proof 1983 Olympic commemorative silver dollar. Mint officials needed no new authority to create new Proof set options as long as the coins were made of the authorized compositions. The introduction of the Silver Proof set in 1992, however, was in response to an order from Congress, which had authorized a resumption of production of the dime, quarter dollar and half dollar in the traditional 90 percent silver alloy last used on 1964 coinage. Since 1992, the Mint has continued to offer not only the regular Proof set but also a Silver Proof set, and in more recent years, two sets of quarter dollars in either copper-nickel clad or silver compositions, plus various Proof sets of dollar coins.

This summer, a new Proof set will be offered — the San Francisco Mint 2018 Silver Reverse Proof set

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