1971 Proof Sets: A Treasure Trove for Collectors and Cherry Pickers Alike

Jay Turner talks about the buried treasures in a common six-dollar proof set, and how to find them.

Proof Set Cover
Proof Set

The year is 1971, the Vietnam War is in full swing, Apollo 14 lands on the moon, and Charles Manson is sentenced to death by a California jury. It was a historically significant time in numismatics as well. The Eisenhower Dollar was first issued, and the first Kennedy Half Dollar with no silver content was released, ending the circulation of silver coinage in America. However, an often overlooked and undervalued treasure of the time is the 1971 Proof Set.

In the late 1960s, there was a lull in coin collecting, but the 1970s brought renewed interest in the hobby. Despite this renewed interest, mint products, including 1971 Proof Sets, were not popular with collectors. Often, mint products would immediately lose value when purchased. The 1971 Proof Set originally sold for $5 and, even today, after 35 years of inflation, the current market value is only about $6. This makes it a very affordable and collectable numismatic item. However, many people don't know that the set may include coins that are extremely scarce and bring hefty prices on the market.

Sometimes it is what's not there that makes a coin special. Discovered in a proof set in December 1971, a Proof Jefferson Nickel was found without a mintmark. It was not the first time the mint neglected to include a mintmark on a coin that should bear one, yet this discovery was major and popular. The mint confirmed the piece as authentic and estimated that about 1,655 out of the 3,220,733 nickels minted did not have the mint mark. The piece quickly escalated in value and today the coin can bring $1,000 to $4,500 depending on the grade.

1971 Penny

There are other varieties beside the Proof No S nickel that may be found in the 1971 Proof Set. The cent boasts three very visible, strongly doubled die varieties. Die 1, listed as FS-032 by the Cherrypickers' Guide, exhibits strong doubling on LIBERTY and the Date but shows little doubling on IN GOD WE TRUST. The coin also exhibits a minor repunched mintmark. Die 2, listed as FS-033, shows very similar but stronger doubling on LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST and very minor doubling on the date. The FS-032 and FS-033 varieties can bring $500 or more depending on condition. FS-033.1 is minor in comparison but still sought by many collectors. It exhibits doubling on LIBERTY and IN GOD. The FS-033.1 may bring over $200. Also known to exist is a Half Dollar variety, FS-014.5, which exhibits a strong Doubled Die Obverse. Dramatic doubling can be seen on TRUST, as well as other areas, and can bring over $200.

Another treasure of the 1971 Proof Set is cameo coinage. Cameo and Ultra Cameo are designations that refer to the amount of frost on the relief of the coin. This Cameo frost was not intentional but more of a byproduct of fresh dies. Often the cameo wore off after a number of strikes and, until the die was taken out of production, it would strike coins with a brilliant appearance. Some collectors have always treasured these cameo coins, but it wasn't until NGC became the first grading service to recognize the designation that they became more widely collected, verified and market-acceptable.

Coins dated prior to 1977 often didn't come Cameo or Ultra Cameo. This is especially true of coinage dated 1971 and earlier due to design, strike, production numbers and other factors. Accordingly, Ultra Cameo coins from 1971 are highly prized by collectors. To date, NGC has only graded seven 1971-S Half Dollars PF-69 Ultra Cameo and these coins can bring up to $1500. Only four 1971-S Quarters have graded PF-69 Ultra Cameo and can bring $900 to $1700. 13 1971-S Dimes have been graded PF-69 Ultra Cameo and bring about $200. There are 17 1971-S Nickels graded PF-69 Ultra Cameo and bring between $400 and $500. The 1971-S Cent, with only seven graded PF-69 Ultra Cameo, brings over $1000.

While the $6 1971 Proof Set may be considered an insignificant piece by many numismatists, for others it can be an opportunity to cherry pick a rare variety, cameo, or condition census coin that is the highlight of many collections. While finding such pieces are very rare, opportunities exists for those willing to take the time to look.

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