What an awful title for a blog. My Grandmother always told me: “Hate is an awfully strong word,” so allow me to rephrase. Proof sets are fun to collect, yet they require perspective. That sounds better!
Let’s start with proof sets’ positives. United States proof sets are beautiful to look at, easy to collect, diversely designed, easy on the budget, and artfully displayed. Proof coins usually remain in perfectly-preserved condition and do not degrade over time when retained in original boxes. It’s also easy to sort and organize sets because of the mint’s concise labeling. The price of most proof sets from the late 1960’s to the present stands at less than $20 each, so this series remains in reach of virtually any numismatic budget.
Ensure that your proof and sets never end up in the basement. Humidity not only warps paper outer boxes, but cents corrode when exposed to moisture over the long term. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that the mint’s sealed plastic holders adequately isolate coins from the elements? Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Remedy or avoid the situation by placing silica gel packets in boxes housing your proof set collection. This absorbs ambient moisture and protects your investment. Be sure to change the packets every year or so since the chemicals’ effectiveness diminishes over time. When you change your smoke detectors’ batteries, change your silica gel packets!
Never worry about light tarnish (toning) developing on your coins. Toning represents a natural, desirable process that neither diminishes values nor hurts coins. Many knowledgeable collectors love toning since the colors imply originality. However, black carbon spots are an ominous sign that something failed during the storage process. Proper storage and silica gel thwart the problem.
Ultimately, collectors face a conundrum: keeping the proof sets intact or breaking them into individual parts. Why break them up? To form individual sets per denomination. The ultimate goal of every coin collector is to own one of each coin ever made by the United States government from 1793 to the present. Obviously, such a goal remains out-of-reach for all but the most devoted and fortunate collectors. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot aspire to create our own version of this dream collection!
Your job is to complete as many sets of coins as your interest and budget allow. So, try to obtain as many different nickels from 1938 to the present as possible. Do the same for half dollars, quarters, pennies, dimes, and so forth. You can find virtually all the non-silver coins in pocket change or by searching through coins from the bank. You’ll need to buy the S-mint proofs and silver coins from coin dealers since there is utterly NO CHANCE of locating them in pocket change. Similarly, because all the coins you find in bank bags are heavily worn out, you might wish to obtain beautiful uncirculated examples from coin dealers. Over time, slowly work your way backwards into silver coins from the early 20th century and late 19th century. Again, hook up with a professional rare coin dealer to get the coins. Coins of America is a perfect resource for finding those tougher, classic issues or high quality uncirculated modern coins.
How do proof sets figure into the equation? Here’s the touchy part: I recommend cracking open your proof sets and inserting the coins into special collector coin albums designed to store and display complete sets. Proof coins are extremely fragile, so they require extreme care when handling. Even the slightest scratch or fingerprint ruins a proof coin’s appearance, so you must handle the coins with kid gloves. I mean this literally: use soft gloves when touching a proof coin, and always hold the coin by the edge (any coin for that matter). Never clean, polish, wipe, or wash a coin…especially a proof!
As you see, there are risks associated with handling proof coins. Still, my largest “beef” with proof sets is that the coins are untouchable…removed from society…entombed within plastic coffins! I have a bit of a problem with the notion of collecting plastic cases and cardboard boxes. Instead, let’s remember that proof sets contain coins that are collectible, fun, and beautiful. What you do with those coins and whether you take your collection to the next step is up to you. I heartily encourage you to collect every proof set from the 1950’s to the present, but then take your collection to the ultimate level by inserting each coin into its rightful album and then moving back in time into the early 20th century and backwards to the 1800’s.
A few words of warning to conclude. First, if you elect to follow my advice, know in advance that you will have an incredibly fun time. Second, it might become a bit pricey, so develop a budget. Third, only purchase the highest quality coins that your budget allows. Fourth, stay away from online auction sites, since coins listed therein generally represent market rejects. Fifth, never buy cleaned, polished, or problem coins just to fill holes in your set. Finally, view your coins using a high quality seven or ten power magnifying loupe in conjunction with a one hundred watt clear light bulb in a dark room.
Proof sets represent an entrée into advanced coin collecting. Stay current with new coins as they come out, but also collect backwards with the idea of eventually moving into classic issues actively pursued by experienced collectors. Cracking open a proof sets requires guts, but this is how novice collectors evolve into intermediate collectors. Acquiring classic issues from the 1800’s represents the transformation of an intermediate collector to an advanced collector.
Your collecting destiny is in your hands. Seize the day!