By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the 1969 Proof Set from the United States Mint. One would think, after such a long time, that this set and others from the period might have appreciated beyond their issue prices (adjusted for inflation)–but that is simply not the case.
When the 1969 Proof Set was issued, it carried a retail price of $5.00, which is a cost of over five times the face value of the coins in the set. The half dollar was struck on a 40% silver planchet, while the dime and quarter are copper-nickel clad. A set today can be purchased on the popular website eBay for less than $7.00. The intrinsic value of the silver-clad half dollar today is roughly $2.40 – which means that the remaining pieces of the set have but a nominal value as numismatic collectibles.
If you had purchased one of these sets in 1969 and sat on it hoping that it would be a good investment, you were sadly mistaken. Adjusting for inflation, $5.00 spent in 1969 is roughly equivalent to $35.00 spent today, based on statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But is this all there is to the story? Is the 1969 Proof Set a losing proposition not worth your time, or is there a way to glean some value out of this five-coin collectors set? Let’s find out.
About the Set
The U.S. Mint took a three-year hiatus from striking Proof Sets as it transitioned from 90% silver coins to the clad coinage we use today.
This transition put the onus on the Mint to strike billions of coins to replace the millions that were in circulation. They could not afford to take the time and care necessary to produce Proof coinage for collectors during this transition period, but the Mint did provide a lower-quality, semi-Prooflike Special Mint Set for collectors for the years 1965, ’66, and ’67. Collector enthusiasm for Special Mint Sets, then and today, is more than a few degrees cooler than lukewarm.
Bowing to collector demand, the United States reintroduced the Proof Set in 1968. But in doing so, the Mint set a new precedent by striking the coins in San Francisco and affixing an “S” mintmark. The new sets also came in updated packaging. Whereas the Mint had issued proof coins in soft plastic packs protected by two index-card-sized pieces of heavy paper stock for the latter half of its 1950-64 run of “modern” Proof Sets, for its post-hiatus period the Mint updated its packaging and embraced a hard plastic “display” case. The new packaging was sturdier and more ornate, but it was not airtight.
Let’s see how this fact plays out with the condition of the coins from the set when submitted to third-party grading companies for certification.
The 1969-S Proof Set consists of five coins: one Lincoln cent, one Jefferson nickel, one Roosevelt dime, one Washington quarter and one Kennedy half dollar (the abovementioned 40% silver, 60% clad). Each coin bears the “S” mint mark of the San Francisco Mint. Almost three million (2,934,631) sets were produced.
Taking the eBay prices realized figure of $7 as a reasonable median price for the entire set in original government packaging (OGP), we will now examine the value of each individual coin from the 1969-S Proof Set as certified by PCGS and NGC.
But first there are the costs of submission.
If you submitted your coins to either PCGS or NGC and did not request any special labels or services, as modern specimens from the United States each proof coin would incur a $16 grading fee.
As for shipping, submitting to NGC means a flat $8 handling fee per submission, meaning an NGC holder will cost $24. PCGS shipping and handling fees are $23.05 for one to four coins and $28.30 for five to 25. Dividing each of these figures by five gives us a charge of either $4.61 or $5.66 per coin. Or, if we assume that our cherrypicker is submitting his or her 1969-S proof coins as part of a larger consignment (at least 26 coins), then only $0.26 must be added to the $16 fee per coin when going with PCGS.
PCGS gives a value of $13 to $30 for a 1969-S Lincoln cent in Brilliant Red, depending on grade. The current graded population figures at the service in this tier are 179 in Proof 66; 138 in 67; 153 in 68; and 11 in 69. This grade distribution is about what you should expect when encountering this denomination in the raw. Due to the age of the coin and the delicate nature of the cent’s metallic composition, perfect and near-perfect coins are exceedingly scarce. Given the submission cost, only Brilliant Red Proof 1969-S Lincoln cents in the grades of 68+ or 69 sell at a profit.
In Cameo, PCGS features pop reports of 112 in PR-66; 120 in 67; 173 in 68; and 29 in 69. A small premium is paid for this middle-tier attribution, with pieces bringing between $20 and $30 in grades up to 69. Proof 69 Cameo examples sell for about $60.
Modern proof coin collectors prefer their coins in Deep Cameo, however, and PCGS reports a population in this tier that is actually higher than those in Cameo. Simply put, if a 1969-S Proof cent has sufficient cameo frosting to earn the designation, its likely that it will be strong enough to qualify as a Deep Cameo.
In Deep Cameo, we see a population of 112 in PR-66; 233 in 67; 355 in 68; and 51 in 69. In grades below PR69DCAM, the 1969-S cent has a market level of between $20 and $30 – no real premium over the prices that Cameo coins bring at the moment. In 69, however, the 1969-S brings a substantial premium, with the three most recent prices realized at a Heritage auction bringing between $258 and $411.
1969-S cent Proofs graded by NGC carry a value that is roughly equivalent to those graded by PCGS, although the population totals at this service hew a little higher.
In Brilliant Red, NGC reports a population of 166 at PF-66; 575 at PF-67; 403 at PF-68; and 79 at PF-69.
In Cameo, NGC presents 27 at PF-66 (including one star grade); 102 at 67; 71 at 68; and 31 at 69.
In Ultra Cameo, NGC notes 35 at PF-66; 142 at 67; 177 at 68; and 27 at 69.
A note on the value of high-grade modern coins. It’s easy to look at the above auction results of $258 and $411 and be left with an impression of how valuable modern coins can be in high grades; the truth is a little more nuanced than that. Value is based on supply and demand. The Lincoln cent is an enormously popular coin in the numismatic marketplace–especially for collectors, who do not wish to spend thousands of dollars on each coin, as one would have to do to collect any number of vintage types in the American series.
But subtle shifts in the market can yield huge swings in value, and usually these swings trend downward. In 2014, Heritage sold a PCGS PR69DCAM 1969-S cent for $1,009. At the time, there were only 47 examples certified in this top population grade. In four years time, only four coins have been added to the census yet the value of the coin has declined precipitously.
The bottom line? Even if a coin is conditionally rare, you still need demand at top-tier price levels to support or influence these prices upwards.
On their CoinFacts website, PCGS gives the following values for proof 1969-S Jefferson nickels: $2 for PR-66 and 66+; $3 for PR-67 and 67+; $4 for PR-68; $5 for PR-68+; and $8 for PR-69. These prices are more or less an accurate representation of the de minimis value of a certified 1969-S Proof Jefferson nickel.
Unfortunately, not a one of them meets the certification cutoff for being worth more money than the cost of submission.
In Cameo, PCGS lists 39 at PR-66; 100 at 67; 171 at 68, and 83 at Proof 69. Market prices given for these grades are roughly the same, except a PR69CAM might fetch about $25 to $30.
In Deep Cameo, PCGS gives populations of 42 in 66; 190 in 67; 436 in 68; and 111 in PR-69.
Only in PR69DCAM do we see a significant numismatic premium (based on grade, not overall eye appeal, such as the fantastic toned specimen illustrated above). Two 2017 Heritage auctions saw PR69DCAM specimens sell for $135 and $129. An eBay buyer paid $500 for one in April from a nationally known coin dealer.
NGC certified populations continue the trend we saw with the Lincoln cent: proportionally similar grades that trade at roughly the same price as their PCGS counterparts, with a higher total number of coins certified. From NGC, we have 50 at PF-66; 472 at 67; 578 at 68; and 291 at PF-69.
In Cameo, NGC presents 11 coins graded PF-66, 65 graded PF-67, 106 graded PF-68, and 87 graded Proof 69.
In Ultra Cameo, those numbers are eight for 66, 53 for 67, 218 for 68, and 118 for PF-69.
All Proof Jefferson nickels should exhibit a sharpness of strike suitable enough to exhibit clearly defined steps on the reverse, therefore, neither grading service attributes Full Steps when evaluating Proof strikes.
The Roosevelt dime is the smallest coin in the 1969 Proof Set, but in terms of value it fits squarely in the middle. The sizes of the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar were based on their respective weights in silver content. This was before the United States Mint switched from silver to copper-nickel clad planchets for the production of dimes and quarters starting in 1965. The half dollar denomination maintained a low level of silver (40%) through 1970.
Of the five denominations in the set, the Roosevelt dime has seen the fewest submissions at both major grading services.
At PCGS, Roosevelt dime submissions total 70 at PR-66, 173 at PR-67, 370 at PR-68 and 306 at Proof 69. NGC reports 19 at PF-66, 240 at PF-67, 348 at PF-68 and 413 at PF-69.
Up to Proof 69, 1969-S Roosevelt dimes trade for about $5. A few hundred collectors actively pursue the 81-coin 1965-Present Proof Set at the PCGS and NGC Set Registries. Currently, only 31 collectors at either service report having a complete set.
The value of the 1969-S Roosevelt dime ticks up a notch in Cameo. PCGS reports 19 at PR-66; 59 at PR-67; 156 at PR-68; and 189 at PR-69. At NGC, the total in Cameo equals one certified PF-66, 28 graded 67 (including one plus grade), 76 at PF-68 (with seven being 68+), and 133 graded at 69 – including two certified PF-69+. In Cameo in grades up to Proof 68, the coin is worth about $10-$12. In Proof 69 Cameo, the price ticks up to about $35.
Naturally, the grade most desired by collectors is Proof 69 in Deep Cameo. To date there are no 70s certified at either service. In Deep Cameo, PCGS reports 10 at PR-66, 49 at PR-67, 214 at PR-68, one at PR-68+, and 198 at PR-69. In NGC’s Ultra Cameo tier, we see eight at 67, 32 at PF-68, and 109 at PF-69.
In Deep or Ultra Cameo in grades up to 68, the coin trades for about $15 to $20. In 69, however, auctions conducted on eBay over the course of the past year of realized between $80 and $100.
The 1969 Philadelphia strike Washington quarter is one of the unsung key dates in the clad series – that is, if condition is your concern. You will rarely ever encounter one that comes nice and most gems are gemmy… for a 1969.
In Proof, of course, the coin was struck in San Francisco and bears little resemblance to its business strike cousins from Philadelphia and Denver. But one thing about the 1969-S Proof quarter is noteworthy: it’s not a given that you will find one with fully frosted features. In fact, it’s probably the toughest coin in the set to find in Cameo or better.
PCGS lists 193 PR-66 Washington quarters, 286 at PR-67; 443 at PR-68; four at PR-68+; and 218 at PR-69. Respective Coinfacts guide values are $10 for 66 and 66+; $12 for 67; $13 for 67+; $17 for 68; $18 for 68+; and $25 for 69. NGC presents 57 at PF-66; 416 at PF-67; 536 at PF-68; and 495 at PF-69. Prices for NGC coins of this issue are in line with the PCGS values.
In Cameo, PCGS has populations of 39 at 66, 119 at 67, 236 at 68, and 135 at PR-69. In Cameo, NGC lists eight at Proof 66, 66 coins at Proof 67, 106 at Proof 68, and 169 at Proof 69. Values are about the same in grades up to 68 for Cameo and brilliant examples, as most collectors don’t feel inclined to settle for less than coins with truly deep frost. In 69 Cameo, however, expect to pay about $65.
In Deep Cameo, PCGS features 14 at PR-66; 52 at PR-67; 164 at PR-68; one at PR-68+; and 59 at PR-69; while NGC reports three at 66; 20 at 67; 57 at 68; and 75 at Proof 69. Expect to pay up to $80 for deeply cameo’ed 1969-S quarters up to the grade of 68, with 69 examples trading for about $400 today. In all likelihood an outlier, one PCGS-graded example brought $780 at a Heritage auction last month.
Kennedy Half Dollar
As is the case with most of the coins discussed here, the 1969-S Kennedy half dollar pays dividends if you have a specimen that is in high grade and fully frosted.
PCGS notes 379 graded examples at PR-66; 517; two at PR-67+; 274 at PR-68; and 137 at PR-69. Far greater numbers of Kennedy Proofs have found their way into NGC holders, thanks in part to the strength of NGC’s wholesale business. NGC reports 307 PF-66, 2,923 PF-67, 4,842 PF-68, and 2,944 at PF-69.
Fully brilliant Kennedy half Proofs in Superb Gem grades trade for between $10 and $16. 69s are worth about $35.
In Cameo, PCGS lists 222 coins graded PR-66, 629 graded 67, 793 graded 68 (with one specimen graded 68+), 522 graded 69, and one certified perfect at Proof 70. In Cameo, we see NGC populations of 104 for PF-66, 756 for PF-67, 1,407 for PF-68, and 899 for PF-69. Up to 69, the certified 1969-S Kennedy half dollars sell for between $18 and $24. 69s can bring upwards of $80. PCGS CoinFacts reports a guide value of $550 for the one example in 70. That number is pure speculation as its Deep Cameo counterpart shows only one example in the same grade. We estimate that the PCGS Proof 70 Cameo example is likely worth upwards of $2,000, and perhaps more if the coin is borderline for Deep Cameo.
Speaking of which, in Deep Cameo we see PCGS-certified populations of 201 (PR-66), 792 (67), 1,567 (68), three (68+), 677 (69), and the abovementioned one at 70. PCGS CoinFacts lists values for these at $20, $30, $70, $85, $240, and $15,000. In reality, the trend is about half of this for 68s and 69s. Is the sole Proof 70 DCAM really a $15,000 coin? Your guess is as good as ours. No set in the PCGS Set Registry for Kennedy half dollars has compiled a competitive Proof set with coins at this dollar level. Our guess is that this price is purely speculative and hyperbolic.
Over at NGC, in Ultra Cameo, NGC gives population numbers of 62 in PF-66, 697 in PF-67, 1,395 in PF-68, and 1,024 in PF-69.
Again, its key to remember that the techniques employed by the United States Mint to strike Proofs in 1969 produced coins that more consistently exhibited frosted devices, but the quality of these cameos varies dramatically and it’s not unusual to find sets that are comprised of coins that are brilliant, cameo’ed, or borderline.
When evaluating coins, remember that neither grading service will attribute a coin as Deep Cameo unless all of the devices, including the text, have deep cameo frost on the obverse and the reverse.
Some coins, even those with deep cameo frost on the portrait bust or on the reverse design, may fail to qualify for a cameo/deep cameo designation if the text does not also have the frost. For example: a beginning collector may see a quarter that appears Deep Cameo because the device is heavily frosted and believe that it is inaccurately graded, but this collector misses this fine detail.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of our quick run through of the numbers is the decline in 1969-S Proof 69 Lincoln cent prices. It’s unusual to see a decline of 75% in just four years – with an accompanying increase in certified population of only four pieces. The Lincoln cent is one of the most popularly collected series of U.S. coins, after all.
Other than that, it is not surprising that the 40% silver kennedy half fared the best, especially in Cameo and Deep or Ultra Cameo grades.
Of course, people collect for different reasons and have different goals, with both changing over time. Perhaps you seek the thrill of cherrypicking excellent specimens from raw Proof Sets or find yourself always on the hunt for varieties, of which several exist within the 1969-S Proof Set’s mintage.
To determine if it is worth getting coins graded or buying coins that are already graded, consider the costs of certification and be sure to deduct that from the potential value a coin might yield if it grades right. You are also not wrong for wanting to collect coins in their original packaging. Obviously, you can find a 1969 Proof set in original packaging at very little cost.
So what’s a 1969-S U.S. Mint Proof Set worth? It’s up to the coins, and really… it’s also up to you.
United States Mint Proof Sets Currently Available on eBay