Roger Burdette has turned his exceptional research and writing to the topic of 1936 to 1942 proof sets some 80ish years after they were product. This full color book with hundreds of illustrations covers this series in detail down to the number of pieces struck from each die, when dies were pulled from service, delivery dates of coins and quantities sold and returned for destruction. Burdette reports that it was amazing to go through the data and analysis, and then see results and explanations appear – almost magically (and you know how we love magic at Wizard Coin Supply!). The Forward by noted author, researcher and coin dealer Q. David Bowers summarizes United States Proof Coins 1936-1942, Eightieth Anniversary Edition exceptionally well:
As a reader of all of Roger W. Burdette’s books I have learned there is a truism: they are so carefully researched with original source material that any writer following in the same topic is likely to be able to add little if anything of importance. And so it is with his latest study, United States Proof Coins 1936-1942. Although I have bought, sold, and read about these sets ever since I started in business as a young teenager in 1953, I found I had a lot to learn. Now, finally, I might be able to call myself an expert on these Proofs—that is, if I can remember the 1,001 details I have just read!
The book is more than a text about coins. It is about people, places, and things as well. By way of introduction you will first read about Proof sets being prepared in 1858, when they were first generally offered to the public, then skip over the years to 1916 where you will learn that the reason we did not have Proof Winged Liberty Head (“Mercury”) dimes, Standing Liberty quarters, and Walking Liberty half dollars with the advent of these designs in 1916 is that their sculptor-designers Adolph A. Weinman and Hermon A. MacNeil objected to such a finish. Going further ahead you will meet numismatically important Lewis Howe, who I had not heard of before, but now know he was essential to the creation of Proof coins in 1936—the inauguration to the era covered in this absorbing book.
Then comes a “you are there” chapter telling how metal is processed, planchets made, how dies are made, and the process of striking coins. Proof coins received very special treatment. Even the experts do not agree on the term “cameo” applied to some Proofs, and collectors have even fewer clues. Step-by-step Roger Burdette gives the clearest explanation I have ever read about this complex subject. In brief, some certified “cameo” coins aren’t very cameo (with mirror contrast against frosty lettering and devices) and some are “deep cameo.” This information alone is worth the price of the book!
Today we have precise figures for Proof coin mintages given in the Guide Book of United States Coins and elsewhere, based upon The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint and other official sources. You will now learn from this book that some sets were not sold, some with problems were returned and others were destroyed during assay tests. As to the actual net distribution for certain years we may never know. You will also learn about sales practices, the advent of special holders for 1936 and later Proof sets, and much more. Market prices over the years? These are there as well. In 1955 the value of a 1936 Proof set was $130. Amazingly, it nearly doubled to $250 by early 1956, then a bit later in the year it soared to $650! Then the market crashed. By 1961—a very good year in retrospect—you could buy one for $350. As you read these words a quality 1936 set will cost you several thousand dollars.
Time was when a Proof set was a Proof set was a Proof set for any given year. All had standard prices. Then something happened: over a period of years collectors and dealers became very “fussy” or particular. Upon close inspection many Proof sets were found to have rubbing or hairlines from repeated cleaning to keep them “bright.” The numerical grading system proposed by Dr. William H. Sheldon in 1949 was adapted and expanded by the American Numismatic Association as the Official ANA Grading Standards. The scale of 1 to 70, in wide use for many years by now, has 60 and upward for coins that do not show evidence of wear. Today a cleaned or low-level Proof coin might be graded as Proof-60 or 61. Third-party grading services were formed starting in the 1970s, evolving in the late 1980s to create encapsulation in plastic “slabs.” Unlike years ago, today a Proof-69 coin, or close to the top of the scale, can be worth many multiples of a Proof-61 to 63 piece.
Roger Burdette explains grading in detail and also the population, or number of coins graded reports, issued by the two leading services, Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). You will learn why lower grade Proofs are much rarer than Proof-67 to 70 coins in terms of the numbers certified. How can that be? The author reveals the answer. You will also see coin-by-coin his estimates of how many Proofs exist at given grade levels.
Detailed descriptions, often in the form of what could be called illustrated essays, are given of Proofs denomination by denomination, year by year from 1936 to 1942. As an example, you will learn more about Felix O. Schlag and his 1938 Jefferson nickel design—fascinating details—than you could find on your own by spending a day on the Internet.
The coin details and descriptions in the later chapters are like a vast smorgasbord. If you own, for example, a 1942 Proof half dollar and want to learn everything possible about it, you’ve come to the right place. For each and every coin just about any conceivable detail or aspect is given including dies used by date and number of pieces struck and coins delivered by date. You can linger and sample all. Or like a smorgasbord, you can pick out a few items for study, then return tomorrow for more.
I dare say that if you absorb what you read, after you finish you could stand up and give a program on modern Proofs from 1936 to 1942. In other words, the book will make you an expert. In a phrase it is definitive as well as interesting.
Each book comes with a CD-ROM containing the full text in searchable format. Experience with this approach for the book From Mine to Mint demonstrated that it is much more effective, convenient and accessible than a printed index. The digital file may also be transferred to the purchaser’s portable digital device for use away from home or office.
Publication Date: April 4, 2017