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Short set a welcome break

When the six-coin District of Columbia and Territories proof quarter set goes on sale, which according to the Mint schedule, is later today, collectors should celebrate.

Why?

It is a one-year set. Anybody buying it knows that he has the entire proof output for the six designs. Yes, of course, there will be silver versions, but you get the idea. Collectors of my generation put great stock in the idea of completeness.

This set is the pause between two lengthy programs. The 10-year 50-states quarter program ended last year.

Next year begins a quarter program that will stretch out 11 years and possibly 22 years to mark American National Parks.

A one-year program seems a lucky break for us. It is a numismatic equivalent of instant gratification.

Resuming another very long program in 2010 probably seemed like a no-brainer to the members of Congress. The states program worked. It ran for 10 years. It generated a lot of collector interest and revenue for the Treasury. Why not keep the good times rolling?

But will it be received in the same way by collectors as the state quarter program was? I don’t think so. The newness of it, the freshness of the state quarter program made it work. Honoring the 50 states is a concept everybody could understand and even agree with. Most collectors agreed it was time for some design changes to our national coinage and this was the best way to do it.

National Parks are less important. The program doesn’t have the novelty of the state quarter program. And even the state quarter program experienced a falling off of interest as the years went on. The idea that we need design changes to circulating coins does not seem to be as compelling as it was in 1999.

Then there is that completeness question. There is the possibility that the set could become a 22-year set. Who will start collecting a set that can double in size, cost and duration? Some collectors, perhaps many collectors, will not.

The secretary of the Treasury could give the program a lift even before it starts by finding that an extension of the program that hasn’t even been begun yet would not be in the public interest.

Will the secretary do this? Probably not until near the expiration of the first 11-years of the program. But it is in the first year of the program where collectors will make their critical decision to participate or not participate at the same level they did the state quarter program. It is that very long, possibly 22-year time line that will be the most daunting factor in their thoughts.