Investing In U.S. Mint Proof Sets – An Oxymoron?

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My experience in collecting U.S. Mint Proof sets. Was it money well spent? Did the sets appreciate in value?

Like many of you I started collecting a few coins as a kid. First, for me, was wheat pennies. Later, after conferring with my Uncle Mickey about coin investing, I started to buy some proof sets directly from the U.S. Mint. I was quite pleased to see the beautiful new shiny coins arrive in the mail each year. Following a brief bonding with my new coins, I found a safe place in my closet with the thought of them being a nice little investment. I was young, but I was being smart, I thought. These proof coins will really be worth something some day.

Well, what happened over the past 30 to 40 years to the value of my proof sets? The short answer … Not much! How could that be? Well, it’s true. That “smart” kid who put his meager, hard earned money to purchase proof sets didn’t see these coins appreciate in value after 40 years. Now I know there are some silver proof coin sets and other sets that are highly collectible. These are not the sets I purchased as a kid. With the extra savings I had from mowing lawns and other chores, I bought the shiny, less valuable proof sets of the 1970’s and 1980’s. To add insult to injury, I also began to squirrel away those soon to be highly collectible bi-centennial coins. Yeah, right! But what else could I have done better with my limited investment dollars as a young person… buy a share of some start-up computer company called Microsoft?img_4269

So, now that I’m older and wiser, older for sure, what am I to do with my collection of proof sets? I did offer to sell them recently. I was offered $3 each for them. The offer came with a brief eulogy… I mean explanation … of how difficult it is to sell these things. OK, no thanks, just maybe I’ll hold onto them for now and they will be more valuable in the future.

So, after a short time of feeling good about my decision to hold onto my cherished proof sets, I was at a flea market and came upon a mess of a table. This table was a hoarder’s delight, with all types of jewelry and who knows what. Under necklaces and bangles, I spotted a scattered grouping of 1970’s proof sets, including several bi-centennial sets. With some hesitation, I asked the proprietor, “What do you want for those coin sets?” With no hesitation, he responded, “I’m trying to get rid of those things. $2 each if you want them.” Never one to miss a barter opportunity, I said “how about 3 for $5.” He said, “sure.”

I walked away from the flea market table with my 3 coin sets thinking he sold them really cheap, even with what I learned recently about proof sets. But then I took the time to calculate the face value of the coins I just purchased. Face value of each set is $1.91 x 3 sets equals $5.73. Could it be the owner of the coin sets held the coins in such disdain that he was willing to pay me 73 cents to take them? After all, he could just as easily removed them from the cases and used them for change, without losing money.

So now I’m fairly confident that my decision to hold on to my proof sets as an investment will never yield a positive return for me. But I am certain that at some point in the future, the proof sets may yet result in positive cash flow for someone – that will be my grandkids, because they’ll be getting my sets for free.