Interest High in Proof Sets

Question: I have collected proof coins and some uncirculated coins since about 1973 from the San Francisco Mint. Unfortunately, I neglected to set up records of costs and would not know how much they have cost me were I to sell them. Do you have a historical price list of these coins? Is there one in a library? Are these kinds of coins a good investment?--J.U.

Answer: United States proof sets and uncirculated sets are quite popular. There has almost invariably been an increase in the number sold each year. A high was reached in 1976 with the three-piece uncirculated Bicentennial set when 3.4 million were sold. But even in 1980, 2.8 million uncirculated sets were sold. Proof sets are even more popular. The Bicentennial proof set of 1976 had sales of 4.1 million. Four million proof sets sold in 1981, 3.8 million in 1982.

Now, what these figures mean is that these sets are extremely collectible. However, in this instance, the law of supply and demand works against those investing in the '70s and '80s series. That's because so many are available. First, however, a word of explanation.

The uncirculated sets are specially packaged Philadelphia and Denver minted coins. The proof sets are from the San Francisco Mint, and the coins are specially struck so they have a particularly attractive, mirror-like finish.

The original issue price for uncirculated mint sets in 1970 was $2.50. The sets cost $3.50 in 1971 and '72. They were $6 in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976; $7 in '77 and '78; $8 in '79, and $9 since 1981. Generally speaking, you can figure proof sets run about $2 more than mint sets.

So, what are your sets worth? Well, here's the current buy prices at Century Coins, 506 West 7th St. I think you'll find these prices competitive with other major dealers. Century will buy 1971 mint sets for $1.88; 1972, $1.78; 1973, $9.27; 1974 and 1975, $3.53; 1976, $3.42; 1977, $3.21; 1978, $3.44; 1979, $3.24; 1980, $4.20; 1981, $10.06. Century's proof set buy prices: 1970, 1971 and 1972, $3.83; 1973 and '74, $4.95; 1975, $6.30; 1976, $6.08; 1977 and '78, $4.95; 1979, $5.85; 1980, $6.08; 1981, $5.85.

Well, that's the idea. If you happen to have some Type 2 1979 or '81 sets, they're worth considerably more. But the bottom line to the question: Are these coins a good investment? The answer is no. At least for the short run. Long run, 1936 proof sets are fetching $3,400, 1937 sets are getting $2,550, even 1959 proof and uncirculated sets are worth more than $20 each. So you see, time is a factor. By all means continue to buy and save these sets if you are a collector. But if you want to make money, other areas of numismatics might prove more profitable.

Q: I don't want to sell my coins, but I am just curious about values. I have Indian-head pennies in good condition dated 1882, 1887 and 1903. In two years the 1887 will be 100 years old. Does that mean anything?--S.O'H.

A: Your Indian-head cents are worth 35 cents each and up, depending upon condition. The 100th anniversary of your coin probably won't affect its value, but if you'd like to throw a party . . . .

Q: Kindly give me the value of the following: $20 gold dated 1904, Liberty head; $20 gold dated 1908, St. Gaudens; dateless $1 gold, very small; $1 silver dated 1880, 1881 and 1921; 3-cent pieces dated 1867 and 1868; 2-cent pieces, 1864 and 1865; a South African 2 shilling, 1896, and a $1 silver certificate, copy enclosed.--J.J.K.

A: Your 1904 $20 gold piece is $400 and up; the 1908 $20 is $500 and up; the undated $1 is probably only worth bullion value; your silver dollars are $10 each and up; the 3-cent pieces are $3 each and up; the 2-cent pieces are $3 each and up; the South African 2 shilling is $10, and the $1 bill with George and Martha Washington on the reverse is in the $25-to-$50 range.

Q: I would like to know the approximate value of a gold coin dated 1911, reading Georgi VI VD Britt OMN IND: IMP: REX F.D., in fine condition.--D.W.C.

A: Your British sovereign is worth about $80.

Q: What is the value of 1885-0, 1889 and 1896 silver dollars in EF (extra fine) condition? And of an 1892 proof-60 Barber dime?--T.G.

A: Silver dollars in extra-fine condition are worth about $15 each. Your Barber dime--1892 was the first year of issue--is one of 1,245 proofs minted. It is worth $400 and up, depending upon condition.

Coin News

Politics exists, even in numismatics. Sol Taylor, who is seeking election to the American Numismatics Assn. board of directors, is using reprints of broken-bank notes as campaign material. The reprints (pictured) in $50, $100, $500 and $1,000 denominations, are from the Bank of F. Argenti, the only California bank to issue such notes. They're called broken-bank notes because at one time banks were allowed to issue paper currency based on their deposits of gold, silver and other assets. Many banks issued more currency than their deposits warranted, thereby going broke and leaving the holders empty-handed. These broken-bank notes, however, do have some collector value. Copies of the four Argenti notes are available free. Send a envelope with 22 cents return postage affixed to Sol Taylor, P. O. Box 5465, North Hollywood, Calif. 91616.

More than 1,000 lots are being offered in the Money Co.'s Rare Coin Auction No. 15. The mail bid auction of mostly foreign coins will close May 15. Estimated prices range from about $65 to $20,000 for a rare Spanish gold coin. For a nicely illustrated catalogue, write the Money Co., 19900 Ventura Blvd., Suite 200, Woodland Hills, Calif. 91364; or call (818) 883-4496.

A series of commemorative coins for the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games will be issued by the Royal Canadian Mint. There will be 10 $20 sterling-silver coins issued over the next three years. These will be the first $20 sterling-silver coins ever produced in Canada. Also, the annual $100 22-karat-gold coin will be released with an Olympic theme in 1987.

Two auctions, both conducted by Joel L. Malter & Co., will be held in conjunction with the Convention of International Numismatics show, June 7-9, at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton Hotel. The Rindge Collection, Part II, is scheduled June 7 and 8. It will feature ancient coins and literature. The second auction is June 9 and features a collection of Indian coins. Two separate auction catalogues are available for $6 each from Joel L. Malter & Co., P. O. Box 777, Encino, Calif. 91316 or call (818) 784-7772.

Don Alpert cannot answer mail personally but will respond to numismatic questions of general interest in this column. Do not telephone. Write to Your Coins, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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