Mike Marotta submitted this review of the new edition of Dave Lange's book on modern U.S. proof sets. Thanks!
A Guide Book of Modern United States Proof Coin Sets (Second Edition) by David W. Lange, Whitman 2010; 256 pages; $19.95; reviewed by Michael E. Marotta.
We learn to expect perfection. America's modern coinage and the current series of Whitman books both validate that presentiment. Those streams find their confluence in this book. The stunning photographs and enlightening narrative do justice to the modern products of the U.S. Mint.
Lange established the proper perspective by only touching on the earliest history of proof coinage. Even discussing the products of the U.S. Mint in the 19th century the author only paves the way for the topic. For that other philosophical discussion the numismatist will turn to Walter Breen's Encyclopedia of US & Colonial Proof Coins.)
Lange chronicles the unsteady progress in the 20th century, as the Mint, always a political institution, guessed (often incorrectly) at the needs of collectors avid for the best possible examples of the coiner's art. Lange includes his own
story. Back when computerized commerce depended on punched cards, he took his chances, waiting months to discover whether or not his package would include frosty proofs or merely brilliant.
Like all books in this series, this one tabulates pricing by appropriate grades. For the year 1962, Proof 66 Ultra Cameo and Proof 67 Ultra Cameo are as good as it gets. For 1982, nothing less than Proof 69 Ultra Cameo is worth tallying. In addition, for each year, the book provides the
mintage, packaging, original price and approximate market price for a common uncertified example.
As always, the bonus is the author's commentary discussing the details of each production run and its place in the market today. For completeness in the series, Lange includes the Special Mint Sets 1965-1967. As in years past, the Mint was having a hard time keeping up with production.
(Mint Director Eva Adams blamed collectors for hoarding coins.) No proof sets were produced. The earlier lacunae are also explained.
Often, those of us whose age rounds up to 100 complain that modern coins lack the grandeur of the classical era. We miss the Seated Liberty, Mercury, and the Buffalo. A few minutes reflecting on the perfect presentation of State Quarters and commemorative dollars such as the Smithsonian, the Lief Erikson and the Wright Brothers, may bring a new perspective. If it does not, the book closes with an Appendix that illustrates early proofs from the Classic Head Half Cent to the 1907 Saint
Gaudens Double Eagle.
I have a copy of the 2nd edition, and I agree Lange has done a nice job presenting the history and many interesting aspects of these coins. Yes, they are often taken for granted and even overlooked by many "serious" collectors, but modern proofs sets are an important part of the story of numismatics in the U.S.
As Dave Bowers notes in his Foreword,
Sometimes a small and scarcely noticeable die detail can mean a large difference in value...
Distinctions that were either not recognized or not emphasized - such as doubled dies and deep cameo contrasts - are described in detail. Although I consider myself to be fairly conversant with modern Proof coinage, until reading the first edition of this book, I did not know of the complexity involved! Now I know that even among sets of the past several decades, two adjacent dates can have widely different characteristics as to contrast, die die sharpness, and the like.
The color photographs are very attractive, and the book's compact size makes it easy for a collector to carry along to coin shows. Bibliophiles will compare and contrast this work with United States Proof and Mint Sets
by Bill Gale and Ron Guth. I have the 2002 edition (is there a later one)?
Obviously the color photos on the new Lange work are a differentiator over the largely black-and-white images in that book.
But one feature of the Gale/Guth work I miss is the four-page gallery of color photos showing the evolution of Proof set packaging year-by-year. There's a place for both of these books in a numismatic library, and these will sit side-by-side on my shelf for ready reference. Congratulations to Dave Lange and Whitman for a great update to a great book.
Wayne Homren, Editor
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