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Where are all the sets
By Mark Ferguson

Just a few years ago, date sets in a wide assortment were commonly offered by mail-order merchants and at coin shops. Collectors had their pick of Brillant Uncirculated sets such as 1934 to 1958 Lincoln cents, 1938 to date Jefferson 5-cent coins, 1941 to 1964 Washington quarter dollars and the complete set of Kennedy half dollars. Kennedy half dollar sets usually included Proofs.

So why might fewer firms be selling date sets housed in custom folders and albums these days? Several factors make it more difficult to provide this service to shoppers.

To build sets for resale, dealers need to acquire enough coins of each date to make it worth their effort. That means finding dozens of different Brilliant Uncirculated rolls. With roll supplies diminishing and prices gradually rising, it can take a fair amount of capital.

As series grow ever longer, complete date sets get bulkier and more expensive. That wasn't as much of a problem a decade ago, especially since prices for Washington quarter dollars and other current series were generally low priced. Today, picking up a well-matched, lustrous set is anything but an impulse buy.

Building dozens of sets – and scrambling to find a last date or two that always fails to turn up – is a very labor intensive process. With strong demand for collector coins and bullion pieces in recent years, dealers can make a decent living without investing all the hours required to place countless coins into albums.

With the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln cent just months away, BU sets of the 1934 to 1958 Wheat Heads cents as well as the 1959 to date Memorial cents will continue to be offered with some frequency during the next year or two, but that will likely change in due time. Every BU roll that is broken up is gone forever to anyone who wants to build sets in the future.

Date sets will always have a certain appeal, as illustrated by the "shop at home" programs on cable television. There high-priced vendors offer partial sets – perhaps a decade's worth of coins – along with "year sets" that feature one example from each year of a certain series rather than every date and Mint mark combination to their uneducated audience.

Such groups of coins are reliable sellers, and reputable dealers who sell to savvy collectors may have to take the partial set route in the future as certain dates become unavailable in quantity.

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