In recent years, the US Mint packaged silver proof sets in red and white boxes. The boxes contain the same design as the regular proof sets, regular meaning proof versions of circulating coins, only the designs are red instead of blue.

This picture shows the packaging for the 2003 through 2006 US Mint’s silver proof sets. Each set contains either 10 or 11 coins. (You can view the coins each set contains via our regular proof set pages: 2003 Proof Set, 2004 Proof Set, 2005 Proof Set and 2006 Proof Set.)

Only there is a slight problem with each of these “silver” proof sets.

You see, each one of these proof sets should contain $1.85 in silver coins – a dime, five quarters and a half dollar.

But, these sets don’t have any silver in them.

Instead, the sets contain the coins that would be in a regular, cupro-nickel clad proof set.

In this next picture, the packaging shows what the two 2003 proof sets should look like. In both sets, the proof coins are the same – no silver exists in the red packaged coin set.

These pseudo-silver proof sets were purchased from another coin dealer. But from whom and how long ago, we don’t know.

Dishonesty makes you wonder, though.

Who was dishonest? Was it a coin dealer whom we trust? Or, did that coin dealer buy the proof sets from another coin dealer who was dishonest?

Or, was it an individual who swapped the coins from one set of packages into another before selling it to a coin dealer? Why didn’t that coin dealer catch the error?

Since we found only one of each year’s proof set from 2003 through 2006, it makes you think it was an individual who did the swapping.

On the other hand, it could have been a dealer who took a chance that they could get by with one of each, and if caught, could plead ignorance to the error.

And, who knows, there may be other years of pseudo-silver proof sets sitting on the shelf that were part of this same hoodwinking effort.

For grins, let’s take a quick look at the difference in value just by looking at the current silver rates. With today’s silver prices, silver coins are running at roughly $24 times face value. For easy calculations and to allow for market fluctuations, let’s just use $20 as the multiplier.

The four sets, each supposed to have $1.85 in silver coins, should contain roughly $150 in silver. Since the sets do not contain silver and since the regular proof sets are currently low-demand and low-value, those proof clad coins are worth only a small fraction of the estimated silver value. This also means they’re worth only a small fraction of what was paid for them.

Someone, somewhere, double dipped. They sold the pseudo-silver proof sets with their cupro-nickel proof coins and obtained payment based on silver proof set prices. Then, they sold the real silver coins for their silver content.

When a coin dealer is busy at a coin show and is buying from coin dealers he trusts, he doesn’t always get an opportunity to review the contents of every set he buys.

But, for you, this is a lesson.

If you are buying silver proof sets or mint sets, make sure the contents – in addition to the packaging – include the appropriate silver coins.

Of course, the cupro-nickel clad coins would be easy to discern from their metal sandwich viewed on the coins’ edges. The difficulty is that you cannot see the edges of the coins in their proof set packaging to be absolutely sure they are silver.

Though, if you compare a true silver proof set to a cupro-nickel proof set, you can see the differences in the colors of the metals on the faces of the coins.

Yes, sometimes the silver coins will tone to a yellowish shade, but by tilting the set back and forth under a good light, you can still see the lighter, whiter colors of the silver.

In contrast, the cupro-nickel proof coins will have a pinkish-orange color consistent across the coins’ designs.

When you review the silver proof set’s silver coins, look at both sides of the coins. Sometimes it is easier to determine the metal on the obverse images, sometimes on the reverse.

As for these four not-silver proof sets, was the dishonest action done by a person so desperate for money they resorted to theft? And, it was theft.

Or, was it done by a person who subscribes to the belief that because someone else has more than they do that it’s justifiable to take from them? “Let’s stick it to the man?”

Or, did a career criminal do the coin swap?

Whoever did it and for whatever reason, they may receive a short term reward for their dishonesty, but they will also pay for their theft at some point in their lives.

For you who are interested in purchasing silver proof sets, learn from this. Make sure the coins that should be silver are silver before you buy.