Having been a coin collector since 1992, I have amassed a collection containing many sorts of coins. As I can tell you from personal experience, one of the best ways to acquire modern uncirculated coins without any doubt of as to their condition is to get them in sealed packaging directly from the mint. United States mint sets are collections of uncirculated business-strike coins (those which are produced for circulation); today, the mint assembles these sets of coins into sealed, flat cellophane packages that are sold to the public. A complete mint set typically includes one specimen of each circulating design produced from whatever mints are then producing busines-strike coins. For example, consider a 1998 mint set. At the time, the Philadelphia and Denver mints were each producing business-strike Lincoln cents, Jefferson nickels, Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, and Kennedy half-dollars. Therefore, a 1998 mint set will include two of each of the coins listed above; one of each coin minted in Philadelphia and one of each coin from Denver.
The United States Mint began producing mint sets in 1947. In those days, mint sets actually contained two examples of each circulating design from each mint (which, in those days, included the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco mints). Through 1958, mint sets were housed in cardboard holders. Beginning in 1959, mint sets had begun being sold in cellophane packaging with which most collectors today are familiar. By the time cellophane packaging had debuted for mint sets, only the Philadelphia and Denver mints were producing mint-marked, circulating coinage.
A color-coding tradition started in 1959 with cellophane mint-set packaging. Cellophane mint set flats from Philadelphia contain a thin blue strip along the top and bottom perimeters of the plastic, and Denver-produced packages contain two thin red stripes. The hues of these stripes have changed over the years. While the red striping of the Denver sets has generally remained the same over the years (with only slight variations in the hue), the blue striping has varied dramatically over the years. A light navy blue when cellophane Philadelphia packaging first was used, during the early 1960s and up through 1980, an appreciably lighter shade of blue was employed. In 1981, the Philadelphia mint cellophane once again bore perceptibly darker shades of blue. Beginning in 1999, with the release of the popular Statehood quarters program, cellophane packages containing Philadelphia quarters bear two white pin stripes, and Denver quarters are sealed in blackish-striped cellophane packs. Mint sets produced between 1959 and 1972 include one little plastic token in each of the two cellophane packs; the tokens bear Philadelphia and Denver mint insignias, respective to the the mint-origin of the coins in the cellophane pack.
There have been a couple halts in bona fide mint set production over the decades. The first was in 1965, when the mint began producing so-called “special mint sets” for three years. Special mint sets contain coins that have a higher detail and surface quality than normal business strike coins. Because the mints abstained from including mint marks on all coins during the period of 1965 through 1967, only one example of each denomination was included in these special mint sets. 1965 special mint sets were packaged in cellophane and the 1966 and 1967 sets are housed in hard plastic cases.
In 1968, mint marks resumed, and so did production of business strike coins at the San Francisco mint. To include examples of San Francisco coins, the mint retained the two-pack format for mint sets but managed to include any San Francisco strikes in the red-striped cellophane packaging. This was the case up through 1981, when the San Francisco mint ceased production of Susan B. Anthony dollar coins (as did the Philadelphia and Denver mints that year; Susan B. Anthony dollars did, however, see one last additional year of production some two decades later, in 1999).
The United States Mint took a hiatus from mint set production during 1982 and 1983. This has proven to be a financial boon to those wise people who managed to hang onto uncirculated rolls of high-denomination 1982 and 1983 coinage. Because there were no official mint sets produced in 1982 and 1983 (however, the Philadelphia and Denver mints did sell souvenir sets in their gift shops; these souvenir sets contain one coin of each denomination struck at that mint), there are relatively few uncirculated examples of some 1982 and 1983 regular issues. The result has been ever-increasing values for most of the 1982 and 1983 business-strike coins in uncirculated condition. When the United States Mint resumed to selling mint sets in 1984, little bronze “P” and “D” medals were included in the Philadelphia and Denver mint packs, respectively, and the envelope containing the two packages now bore some sort of colorful image-as opposed to the text-only envelopes that had been used up through 1981.
United States mint sets, by their nature, represent the ideal means of acquiring uncirculated coinage-after all, they are coins that have been packaged and sealed by the mint, so there is no chance that any of the coins in the sets have seen use in circulation. However, mint sets offer more than just a fail-safe way of buying uncirculated coins. Mint sets also offer, in some cases, the only means toward obtaining certain issues. One example is the 1970 mint set, which offers collectors the only source for obtaining 1970-D half dollars (which were not struck for circulation that year). 1987 mint sets represent another such example; both the 1987-P and 1987-D half dollars were not produced for circulation but were included in that year’s mint sets. For a period of time, beginning in 1975, the San Francisco mint packaged and sold mint sets containing one example each of the 40%-silver Bicentennial quarter, half-dollar, and dollar coins. On the other hand, there has been the occasion where the United States Mint has not included examples of business strikes in mint sets, as was the case with the exclusion of Eisenhower dollars from mint sets in 1971 and 1972.
As can be understood from the aforementioned points, it is not hard to see why mint sets have long proven to be a coin collector favorite among those who enjoy amassing collections of modern coins. While some collectors cut up mint sets with the intention of using them as resources for filling holes in albums, others simply enjoy collecting and keeping mint sets in their original, whole state. At any rate, one can easily purchase current United States mint sets directly from the mint or buy earlier sets from private individuals and coin dealers.