In simpler times there were circulating U.S. coins, uncirculated sets and proof sets.
They related to each other in a manner that every collector could understand. If a coin was struck for use in circulation, an example would be part of the uncirculated set, which we simply called mint sets. Proofs were specially produced sets of coins with a mirror finish that included one example of each denomination currently in use.
That was it. If there was no root issue in circulation, it was not made.
Nowadays, there are many more special collector issues. Assuming some underlying root or logic in Mint collector coin issues these days can lead to surprises and frustration.
Take the 2012 “S” mintmarked uncirculated America the Beautiful copper-nickel clad quarters. Because they match circulating coins in every way except the mintmark, they could be a circulating coin issue, but they are not.
They exist solely to be sold by the Mint to collectors in rolls and bags – so far.
Many collectors used to the old ways, would presume that such coins would be in the annual mint set. They are not.
We didn’t know they were coming.
Any collector making a logical inference that the “S” coins would be in mint sets might become frustrated. After all, why do collectors buy uncirculated coin sets if not to get examples of every single coin that is, could, or might be in circulation during the year?
If the “S” coins are not included, is the current mint set just a random, non-inclusive group of uncirculated coins?
If the Mint decides that the “S” uncirculated clad quarter experiment is a success, will we see 2013 San Francisco quarters included in the annual mint set next year, or will we continue along the present path?
Would collectors buy fewer rolls and bags knowing they could get the “S” clad quarters in mint sets?
And if all of this flies, will we see “S” uncirculated Presidential and Native American dollars?
Since there is no tie to circulation demand, perhaps we could see West Point circulation strikes of cents through dollars, too.
If the only limitation on new coin issues is what the Mint thinks collectors will buy, who knows where we can go in the future.
Collectors, of course, will entertain almost any idea. However, their funds are not limitless.
At a minimum, would it be too much to ask at the beginning of each year to know what will be coming in the next 12 months so collectors could allocate their funds according to their preferences without making any assumptions that could turn out to be false just a few weeks or months later?
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper “Numismatic News.”