When it comes to the 1979-S and 1981 Proof coins, the type of mint mark can alter a coin's value by quite a bit. Even if the difference is slight, it still means a lot in the eyes of a collector.
As a general rule, throughout numismatics, a minor difference can be a big deal, especially if that minor difference occurs on the right coin. The classic 1981-S Proof coins are an example of this rule. In fact, a very small, small variation in mint mark style does make a big difference in the rarity and the overall price of the coin itself.
A Little History on that Time Period of Coin Collecting
It’s not just the mint mark that made the 1981 so important. To really understand why the 1981 types are considered special, you have to remember or learn what exactly was happening around the time of the initial discovery of the coin. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the coin market was booming and in a big way too. Metals were at an all-time high, a never before seen high. Because of this, monetary inflation was on the rise and rare coin prices soared to unimaginable levels. The market had never seen such activity before in fact, and this was the first time that prices soared so high so quickly.
Market conditions were good, and the result? Coin dealing grew rapidly as a profession. Veteran collectors began opening businesses and started buying and selling coins. Actually, in the late 1970s, the overall number of collectors in the nation swelled to as high as 15,000 coin dealers all in all. All of these people needed coins to sell. They started with modern coins as modern coins are plentiful, cheap, and easily replaced too. Remember, at that time “modern” was coins made in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. During that time, coins with lower mintages like the favored 1973-S Silver Eisenhower dollar were marketed as keys, heavily promoted, and reached prices as high as $200, even though they were still considered modern coins at that time period. But here’s where things got really interesting. When small, almost unnoticeable differences or varieties appeared in newly released proof sets (like how they did in 1979 and 1981) it is no wonder that the promotion of these pieces quickly occurred and that the prices of them began to soar practically overnight.
The Key Differences with the 1979 and the 1981 Proof Coins
In the year 1979, a number of changes occurred in numismatics and even just hobbyist coin collecting. First, the Eisenhower dollar coin was replaced by the Susan B. Anthony dollar. The results? Susan B. Anthony coins became widely collected like all new coin series are when they first come out. To make the series even more interesting for all of us who collect coins, the 1979 proof set came with two very different mint mark styles. These styles had one with a "filled S," better known as the Type 1, and the other with a "clear S," better known as the Type 2. This key difference means all the difference with these cherished and easily remembered coins.
That clear “S” is what makes the differences in value for the proof sets. The Type 2 mint mark style was released later in the year starting with the lower denominated coins first and going up from there. The clear S is considered to be most scarce on the half dollar and the Susan B. Anthony dollar, and less scarce on the other denominations.
It might sound pretty self-explanatory on paper, but it is the differences in the 1981 types that are often what dealers and collectors have the most trouble with identifying. The difference really does lie in the style of the mint mark. If you know what to look for in that regard, then you will be fine. The Type 1 is actually the same punch or tool used to make the Type 2 1979 coinage. The Type 1 has a strongly pointed top when compared to a flat top of the 1981. The Type 2 has rather bulbous serifs in comparison to the Type 1 and the serifs do not touch the inside of the S either. It is these small differences that give the coin so much more value and makes them more scarce, bringing in a much as $325 for the set versus $11 for the Type 1s.