By Philip M. Lo Presti
I am not convinced that children have little or no interest in coin collecting or numismatics at all. I had thought that, but my perspective changed after a wonderful little event that happened last month.
Three weeks ago while visiting the Florida classroom of my girlfriend, Deb, I had the opportunity and pleasure to talk to her fourth-grade students about coins and coin collecting. It was something I had never done before, and I was a little reluctant to do so at first. I have not spoken publicly about coins and coin collecting in quite a long time. She wanted me to speak to these young boys and girls because she knew that I have a passion for and knowledge about coins. She thought it would be good for her students to learn something new.
She actually got the idea a few weeks earlier when a young lady in her class asked her what a Buffalo nickel was worth. Deb told me that the students think their teachers know everything, including the value of such a coin. Not knowing the worth of the coin herself, she told the young lady that she wasn’t sure, but that she would find out from me, her boyfriend and coin collector. She asked me over the phone that night, we spoke a little about it and the idea was born that sometime I would visit her class, in a small private school in South Florida, to talk about coins with her students and to perhaps interest these young minds in something I didn’t think they would have much interest in.
I accepted the challenge a little hesitantly because I had not spoken publicly in a long time, but really because I did not know what I was going to say. I assumed that none of these young people were going to be interested. After all, I had talked before to younger people, including nieces, nephews, cousins and friends’ children, and most of them had little or no interest whatsoever in anything that had to do with coins or coin collecting for that matter. So, what in the heck was I going to say or talk about to these 9- and 10-year-olds? How could I possibly make it interesting to them, with all they have to entertain themselves these days? Nobody is interested in coins anymore. That’s what I assumed from past experiences and from reading many articles and letters in NN. I had thought this was a fact, indeed.
Fast forward to the day before I was supposed to go to Deb’s class and talk about coins. Deb, always the consummate professional, asked me what I had prepared. Actually, I being a less than adequate student, hadn’t thought about it much, possibly because I thought it would most likely never happen, or maybe she would just forget about it. But she didn’t forget. In the back my mind I wanted to prepare something, I just didn’t know what I would say, or on what level I should speak to these young people. Deb and I discussed what I might present to her class and debated a little about how I was supposed to talk to them. After our discussion, I was still in a quandary about what I was going to say. Together, we looked at some change and pulled out some state quarters, a few Presidential dollars, some other coins including a few Wheat pennies and another 1-cent piece that had turned totally green! I jotted down a few notes on a yellow legal pad so I would remember some things we had discussed. I still felt way under-prepared for my little mission to try and educate her students and make it fun at the same time. I was not convinced that I knew what to talk about, or whether these youngsters would be interested.
The morning of my big debut in Deb’s class I dropped her off at the school at about 7:45 a.m. I was due to come back at 11 a.m. for my guest appearance. I had a little more than two hours to get myself some breakfast, a cup of coffee and to finalize my thoughts. I stopped off at a Dunkin’ Donuts, sat at a table, pulled out the legal pad and started to reorganize my notes, writing things in chronological order so I could sound half way intelligent in front of her students, remember what to ask them and what to talk about.
I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I put my updated notes in the car and drove back to the school, feeling somewhat better in my preparedness. I was feeling more confident with the task at hand. That is, until I discovered that I had somehow lost all the new notes I had just organized! How in the world did I do that? How was it even possible? I had never actually lost any assignments or homework in all my years of school. I might have used the age-old excuse that my dog ate the homework, but this was different. I needed those notes and really did lose them moments before my presentation! Boy, was I feeling silly at this point. What was I going to say to Deb? She would never believe me, and how was I supposed to remember what to say to the kids? Now I was flying blind as I walked into her classroom.
Deb introduced me to her nine students – seven girls and two boys – and they gathered to a spot in front of the class on a carpet. Much to my surprise, they seem enthused to have a guest speaker in their class. They actually seemed a little excited to have me there. Deb told them they could start by asking me any questions they wanted. Of course, the very first questions were about how old I was and when Deb and I were getting married. I thought to myself, these youngsters had no interest in coins at all, they were more interested in Deb’s personal life. I figured I was doomed for the rest of my visit!
I moved forward in my mission by first asking how many of them collected coins? To my surprise and delight, the majority of them raised their hands. Seeing this I knew I might have been off to a good start.
What happens next is the entire reason I wrote this Viewpoint. These fourth-grade students actually had questions about coins and listened to my answers. Most of them truly did seem interested in either collecting or just knowing if a coin was worth more than face value.
One boy told me he just was interested in how much a coin was worth, rather than collecting. He wanted his coins to be worth a lot of money one day. I told him he would be considered more of a coin investor rather than a coin collector. He seemed fine with that and was happy to hear that coins are worth holding on to.
Another young man told me he looked through coins with his dad and found Wheat cents and state quarters, and that he liked finding ones he did not have.
One of the young ladies said she thinks she accidentally spent a gold coin, but we figured it was most likely a Presidential dollar.
My point being, these kids really did seem excited to talk about coins.
As I spoke to them, the conversation got more and more fun and easier at the same time. We looked at a few coins that I had brought, the ones Deb and I pulled out of change. I noticed while looking at them again that there was actually a steel cent in the group. I explained to students the difference between that and a “regular” cent. I showed them how the 1943 steel cent stuck to a magnet and how it’s better to find one that doesn’t. They were truly excited! They wanted to go and hunt for cents themselves.
I had a very tarnished “green” cent, and showed it to them. I asked why they thought it had turned green like that. When I explained that it was copper like the Statue of Liberty and that they both tarnished in the same way they seemed fascinated by the similarities.
Our conversation continued when I asked the trick question, “How many sides does a coin have?” A smart young lady told me the correct answer: Three.
The young fellow who was to become a future investor asked what the most expensive coin was, and what it was worth. I told him my favorite most valuable coin was the 1913 Liberty Head nickel, and it was worth well over 3 million dollars. In unison, all their little heads leaned forward and exclaimed a collective, “Wow!”
I also emphasized that you should never, ever clean a coin, especially one that you think might be worth a lot of money, and explained how that could actually depreciate the coin’s worth.
The kids remained remarkably entertained. I was certainly feeling good about my pitch and truly believed the youngsters where having a good time and actually learning something.
We went over many aspects of what makes a coin rare. We discussed that age, how many particular coins were minted, desirability and what they were made of all contributed to a coin’s rarity.
One clever young lady seemed to put it all together and asked, “What if a coin was made out of gold and silver, was the biggest coin ever made, was 10,000 years old and had a bullet from the Civil War stuck in the middle of it. How much would that coin be worth?”
My response was, “It would be worth 100 million dollars!”
Days later I received wonderful little thank-you notes from some of the students, saying that they enjoyed my visit and talking about coins with me. Most of them asked if I would come back again, as well as when I was going to tie the knot with Deb ... they were also very curious about that.
The whole point is, perhaps there are kids out there that might be interested in coins. Maybe this was an isolated group of boys and girls who were actually already interested. Possibly their parents or someone close to them made them more aware of this hobby, the hobby of kings. It could be that they just enjoyed an engaging guest speaker, or possibly they enjoyed how I presented the information. I am not really sure. But I believe now that the perception that all young people are not interested in coins is wrong. There might be more kids out there than we know about that could become interested in coins, or other areas of numismatics. Maybe, just maybe, if we took the time to talk to them, explain about coins as well as the fun and benefits of collecting, we could inspire the next generation of collectors.
This “Viewpoint” was written by Philip M. Lo Presti, a hobbyist from East Meadow, N.Y.
Viewpoint is a forum for the expression of opinion on a variety of numismatic subjects. To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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