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What makes great art?

After writing yesterday about clad proof sets, I was delighted to see a comment left by a reader. It made me think.

It offered the idea that perhaps declining interest in clad proof sets might be due to the quality of quarter designs. There are five of them issued each year.

Specifically, the reader wrote: “I think the unimaginative designs of the quarters are unappealing to a lot of folks which in turn lessens their interest.”

Are quarter designs in the America the Beautiful series unimaginative and unappealing?

That is certainly not the intention of the artists who create the designs, or the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the Commission of Fine Arts, which review designs and make their recommendations to the Treasury secretary.

In a sequence of 56 designs that are being issued over a period of nearly 12 years, it is fair to say that not all of the designs have or will rise to the status of great art.

This would be true no matter how talented the artists are, or how competent the review committees are.

There is a natural variation in human undertakings.

Not everything I write is great, but I would like to think that everything I write at least rises to a professional standard and that perhaps from time to time something really strikes readers as particularly apt when a well chosen subject is combined with well crafted language.

How often does it happen?

Well, review the last nine years of this blog and you tell me. I know you won’t do it. It would not be long before the 2,312 previously written blogs all turn into a blur even if there is a blog equivalent of “The Great Gatsby” buried in there somewhere.

In recent years we collectors have been exposed to numerous new U.S. coin designs. There has been no other period like it in our history.

Thanks to the openness of the design selection process, we even see many of the designs that were submitted but not selected. It can be overwhelming.

We collectors all have our own way of thinking. To us a few designs might rise to the standard of great art, most designs are pleasing, and a number of designs miss the mark entirely.

But if you put a group of collectors together in a room, you will not necessarily reach a consensus on which is which.

If the quality of the quarter designs is indeed hindering demand for proof sets, it does represent an evolution in collector thinking.

When I was a kid, art had nothing to do with buying a proof set. Collectors were acting out of a sense of completeness – that is keeping their sets current by buying new issues as they came out. They were also acting out a speculative impulse. And we felt special because we could own specially made coins of a higher quality than what could be found in circulation.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."

• If you enjoy reading about what inspires coin designs, you’ll want to check out Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths about U.S. Coins