A Dave's Collectible Coins Article

Prestige Sets, Commemorative Coins and You

“Great respect or importance.” That is the definition of “Prestige”. The purpose of the Prestige set was to showcase proof coins and commemorative proof coins for those years they were made, in a very nice case.

Prestige sets were produced by the U.S. Mint from 1983 to 1997 (although they skipped 1985). The set contained all of the proof coins for the year in addition to the commemorative proof dollar. If there was a commemorative half dollar for the year, it was included as well.
Part of what makes Prestige sets special is that they include Commemorative coins. So, we are going to go over both subjects.

COMMEMORATIVE COINS

Commemorative coins offer much more than just fine coins for collectors. They also have purpose. In the words of the U.S. Mint, “As well as commemorating important aspects of American history and culture, these coins help raise money for important causes. Part of the price of these coins is a surcharge that goes to organizations and projects that benefit the community.”

Commemorative coins are divided into two categories. These are “Classic Commemoratives” and “Modern Commemoratives”.

CLASSIC COMMEMORATIVES

Classic Commemoratives began with the Chicago’s World Fair of 1893. This fair was a celebration of the 400th year since Columbus discovered the New World. The event is properly known as the “Columbian Exposition“. The first commemorative half dollars were of Columbus.

There was even a Queen Isabella U.S. Commemorative quarter (Columbus’s sea journeys were funded by Queen Isabella of Spain).

This is the only foreign monarch on a U.S. coin. George Washington would probably turn in his grave if he knew that a monarch was on a U.S. coin. Nonetheless, it’s part of history.

There were many coins of the Classic Commemorative era. They saluted many aspects of American life.

Classic Commemoratives continued continued until the 1950’s. The last coin of this type featured Booker T. Washington (African American educator and orator) and George Washington Carver (African American inventor).

1954 was the final year the U.S. minted Classic Commemoratives.

1893 Columbian Exposition Commem Half Dollar

Photo by Dave's Coins

1925 California Diamond Jubilee

Photo by Dave's Coins

1893 Queen Isabella Commemorative Quarter

Photo by Numismatic News

1954 Washington - Carver Classic Commemorative Coin

Photo by Dave's Coins

MODERN COMMEMORATIVES & PRESTIGE SETS

Up to this point, Commemorative coins were not included in any sets sold by the U.S. Mint.

Modern Commemorative coins occur in the 80s when the commemorative coin came back in style with the 1982 George Washington commemorative half dollar. This coin celebrated the 250th anniversary of his birth.

The following year, 1983, was the first year of the Prestige set! Included in it was a Commemorative coin minted especially for a great event of the coming year – the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles, California!

The Commemorative coin of that year was marketed heavily. The case had a leather feel to it. It snapped shut. It came with a certificate of authenticity, just like a regular proof set.

The 1984 Prestige set also had a Commemorative coin with an Olympic theme. The case was similar to the prior year.

1982 George Washington Commemorative Coin

Photo by Dave's Coins

1984 Prestige Set

Photo by Dave's Coins

1983 Prestige Set

Photo by Dave's Coins

Do you remember the TV commercials? Here is a commercial from 1984 promoting commemorative coins.

There is one more commercial of note. Remember that some of the proceeds of commemorative coins go to the activity they are commemorating? This one specifically promotes the proceeds going to the training of future athletes.

1985 didn’t have a Prestige set. They continued again in 1986. When they did so, the case was larger and had a velvety feel.

This was the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. The commemorative coins (both a half dollar and a dollar) celebrate this. Also of note, 1986 was the year the restoration of the Statue of Liberty was complete. The efforts went from 1982 through 1986 and were extensive.

1986 Prestige Set

Photo by Dave's Coins

Scaffolding for Restoration of the Statue of Liberty

Photo by National Park Service

The coin commercials continued in 1986.

You can tell the person making the commercial didn’t know about proof coins because the grandfather keeps a proof dollar in his pocket and paws the face and reverse before he gives it to his grandson.

Subsequent Prestige sets celebrated the Constitution of the United States, Congress, Eisenhower and several other themes.

The final Prestige set came in 1997 and featured the Botanic Garden located in Washington, D.C.. Per NCG, “In 1994 the Botanic Garden required financial funding, therefore the Government approved the production of Commemorative Botanical commemorative coins. For every coin sold the Botanic Garden received a $10 surcharge.

This further serves as example that when you purchase a commemorative coin from the U.S. Mint, you are also helping the cause with which the coin is associated.

1997 Prestige Set

Photo by Dave's Coins

PRESTIGE SETS AND THE COLLECTOR

For the collector, the Prestige set offers a unique opportunity to collect the proof coins, commemorative proof coins of those years and also enjoy the artistic packaging. They really are “prestigious”. However, there is one factor you need to be aware of as damage could occur on your coins. The coins in the Prestige sets come in lenses, but know this:

THE PRESTIGE SETS HAVE PLASTIC LENSES FOR THE COINS, BUT THEY ARE NOT AIRTIGHT.

These are not the same as slabbed coins in which no air can enter. Air contains oxygen, moisture and sulfur which degrades the metals of coins. This could affect their beauty.

So, you have some choices.

You can take the coins out of these sets and preserve them in a different fashion (like slabbing them). You could put them in coin books, but there you run into the same trouble. They are still exposed to air. And, neither of these solutions will preserve a full set of coins with packaging, like a Prestige set.

What can be done?

Do not often open the case. The Prestige set, only has so much air contained inside the case, once closed. Only so much damage could possibly occur with that much air. So, the number of times you open the case is a factor. If you put it in a safe or lock-box and don’t open it, the preservation of coins will be much better than if you open it often.

Another solution is to put the set into an airtight container, like a freezer bag. You could also put a little bag of silica to absorb moisture. (Silica bags are those tiny bags you find in bottles of vitamins and similar things to absorb moisture. They usually say things like “Do not eat,” on them.) Then, only open them sparingly.

Prestige sets are a part of numismatic history. And, they are prestigious! Do you have a full set?

References:

The Free Online Dictionary by Farlex – Prestige Definition
https://www.thefreedictionary.com/Prestige

Wikipedia – World’s Columbian Exposition
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_Columbian_Exposition

U.S. Mint – Commemorative Coin Program
https://www.usmint.gov/learn/coin-and-medal-programs/commemorative-coins

Numismatic News – The 1893 Isabella Quarter is in a Class of Its Own
https://www.numismaticnews.net/article/features/the-1893-isabella-quarter-is-in-a-class-of-its-own

Wikipedia – 1984 Summer Olympics
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_Summer_Olympics

My Coin Guides – Early Commemorative Coins
https://earlycommemorativecoins.com/coin-mintages/

My Coin Guides – Modern Commemorative Coins
https://moderncommemoratives.com/modern-commemorative-coin-mintages/

The Spruce Crafts – Modern U.S. Proof Sets Values and Prices
https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/modern-us-proof-set-values-4051894

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