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Collecting United States Proof Coinage: 1950-1964


Collectors of mid-20th-century United States coins often gravitate toward assembling sets of proof coins from this most vibrant of periods in American numismatic history. Many individuals often think of the 1950s and early 1960s as a golden era of coin collecting because it was a time when many of the classic U.S. coins of the late-19th and early 20th centuries could still be found in circulation, yet modern coinage, too, remained interesting.

Lincoln Cent (Wheat Reverse), 1950 1C, DCAM, PCGS PR67DCAM. Click image to enlarge.

The post-World War II years saw the releases of scarcer dates such as the 1949 Roosevelt Dimes and 1950-D Jefferson Nickel, not to mention the new pieces that included the first Lincoln Memorial Cent in 1959 and Kennedy Half Dollars in 1964. And then there was the discovery of the 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln Cent – perhaps the most famous of all U.S. error varieties. The release of the U.S. proof sets of 1950 through 1964 tapped into a collector base that seemed to grow each year during that period; it’s a reality borne out in the mintage figures for proof releases of the era, increasing in number virtually every year over year.

The 1950-1964 Proof Short Set is chronologically bookended by a wartime-impelled hiatus in proof coinage that spanned from 1943 until 1949; a moratorium on proof production from 1965 through 1967 occurred during a period when the United States Mint focused on striking circulation coinage to mitigate the effects of a nationwide coin shortage. The proof coins of the 1950s and early ‘60s were struck at the Philadelphia Mint and generally feature needle-sharp strikes as well as deeply mirrored surfaces. A small but significant minority of proof coins from this era exhibit cameo frosting on the devices and other details standing proud to the fields.

While many of the collectors who focus their efforts upon collecting proof coinage of the 1950s and ‘60s grew up during that period, there are plenty of collectors of far younger age who find these Googie-period coins appealing and are drawn to integrating them into a pertinent short set in the PCGS Set Registry. There are many appeals to collecting proof coinage from this period, including familiarity of the mostly contemporary coin designs, relative affordability of these issues, and the potential challenge in collecting high-end specimens.

There are no major rarities among the regular-issue proof coins of the 1950 through 1964 period. Even the earliest proofs from that timeframe in 1950 boast mintages of over 50,000, suggesting they’re rather common from the standpoint of such numismatic coinage. Still, prices for the pre-1955 proofs are substantially higher than those from the latter stretch of that short set run. A collector wishing to assemble a 1950-1964 Proof Set PCGS Registry Set can reasonably expect to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000, which is a respectable sum but a clear bargain considering the 75 coins required to complete the regular-issue version of this proof short set.

Want a greater challenge? Aim for top-pop pieces and throw in CAMs and DCAMS when available…. Such a feat is all but guaranteed to run into the six figures. Another PCGS Set Registry challenge is completing the 81-coin 1950-1964 Proof Short Set with Major Varieties.

Kennedy Half Dollar, 1964 50C Accented Hair, DCAM, HAIR COMPARISON. Click image to enlarge.

In addition to the 75 regular-issue proof coins as encountered in the other set, this 81-piece objective incorporates several notable proof varieties: the 1956 Type I and Type II Franklin Half Dollars, 1960 Large and Small Date Lincoln Cents, 1960 Large Over Small Date Lincoln Cent, 1960 Small Over Large Date Lincoln Cent, 1961 Doubled Die Reverse Franklin Half Dollar, and 1964 Accented Hair Kennedy Half Dollar. Such an assemblage entailing top-pop and/or CAM or DCAM specimens is another six-figure endeavor but one that could rank atop the PCGS Set Registry.

Set Registry Coin Collecting: Basics

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