In 1981 there was virtually no interest in any modern coins by the hobby. A few people collected the coins and large numbers of one cent coins were set aside each year and in some years nickels were saved as well. But no other modern circulating coin attracted much notice. Then in 1982 as a broader government cost cutting measure mint sets were eliminated. These had always provided a ready supply of very high quality coins struck with extra pressure by new dies. While the coins in these sets are usually marked and scratched a lot they are very well made and very attractive brilliant uncirculated coins. Circulation issues were mostly poorly made by old tired dies and these were marked heavily as well.
So in 1982 when mint sets were eliminated it caused a rush by collectors to put aside nice pristine examples of coins from circulation. To most peoples' surprise this was exceedingly difficult for two reasons: there were almost no nice pristine examples being released by the mint despite the enormous mintages, and this especially applied to all the clad issues. Then the other problem was banks were loathe to provide new coin to customers. You either asked for quarters when they just happened to have new ones or you didn't get them. Due to the difficulty of finding decent coins in 1982 several companies began producing mint sets. Quality was spotty but they were far nicer than one could assemble himself. The mint reportedly made 10,000 souvenir sets and about one in five brilliant uncirculated 1982-P quarters comes from a souvenir set which implies about 50,000 total coins from sets. Most 1982-P quarters are from sets rather than rolls implying about 80,000 coins were saved in brilliant uncirculated. The other 1982 and 1983 coins are comparable and range as high as about a quarter million. Of course there has been attrition and degradation on these coins as well.
I chased down the source for a nice gem Philadelphia issue from the auto license branch to a nearby bank but it required huge effort to get the vault manager to supply a bag of the new coins. He told me he called a few of his cohorts in Chicago and nearby cities and not one of them had ever had a request for brand new quarters! I could have told him I was chasing gems and that there were no mint sets that year but in those days I was as secretive as the Mint about how and where to find gems. The Mint didn't even admit that most gems made each year ended up in the mint sets or that the sets were made to a very different and higher standard. Of course it didn't matter because people were not saving clad from circulation anyway. Finding rolls of 1981 quarters in 1985 was more difficult than finding rolls of 1982 coins. Nobody was cutting up 1981 mint sets except a few wholesalers and the quarters just went into circulation because there was no demand except for the three "new" SBA dollar coins. In the intervening years most of the 1982 and 1983 clad and nickel rolls have been split up to sell as singles. All of the eagle reverse clad quarter rolls from before 1982 are few and far between and when they are seen they will typically be mint set coins. Circulation issue BU rolls often are too poor of quality to wholesale. Not only were the coins ugly when they came off the dies but in addition to excessive marking they are often tarnished now days.
Many collectors in 1982 simply pulled nice coins from circulation but usually these were MS63 at best with a few lucky ones finding MS64. Clean examples aren't really scarce but most clean examples will be weakly struck, poorly centered, and produced by worn dies. True gems are very elusive and despite great effort spanning 40 years I have found a mere handful of well made pristine gems.
The numbers of all 1982 and 1983 coins in brilliant uncirculated condition is quite low. Then there aren't many more of these in MS60 either. Ironically enough, these dates are all common in AU because Numismatic News ran a series of articles about their scarcity starting in 1985. Many of these were still AU's and hundreds of people were scooping them right out of pocket change. Many AU55's and sliders are used by wholesalers to fill albums because they can't obtain brilliant uncirculated singles or rolls. MS60's are ugly and often trade as AU's which wholesale around $2 but bring more on eBay. AU58's are highly desirable and seldom seen.
All gem moderns are simply being overlooked. They are taken for granted because the prevailing belief is that there are millions of mint sets each containing numerous nice gems but 57 years of neglect have decimated these sets and most of the few survivors are tarnished now. Even back when they were made only about 2% of the coins in them were gem and now the sets are virtually gone and far less than 1% are em.
Working with Greysheet, there has been a rationalization of some of the prices for the 1982 and 1983 issues to more closely reflect the actual markets. It's not possible to get a perfect reflection of the gem market for modern circulation issues due to the thinness of these markets and the vagaries of the coins. Greysheet has done a superb job in reflecting the relative scarcity of the coins. When you see a $25 price tag on something like an MS65 1972-D Ike you should remember two things; it's very difficult to just go out and search rolls for one any longer and you can't find one in circulation. If you could find nice choice rolls they will cost $80 each. Indeed, it's getting pretty difficult to even find a beat up Very Good 1969 quarter in circulation. These coins were designed to circulate for only 30 years and this coin 53 years old now. Survivors are almost invariably in deplorable condition and none were set aside back when most were in Extra Fine or even VG.
The 1982 and 1983 issues are the canary in the coal mine because everyone needs one in an eagle-reverse quarter set and even AU's aren't "common" in the same sense as an uncirculated 1955-S cent is common but more like how an 1931-D cent in XF is “common.”
Author: Sam Petry