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Do YN programs work?

I laid out a letter to the editor in Numismatic News for the issue that goes to press today that had really caught my attention.

The writer asks as many collectors have asked before about where future collectors were going to come from. Who are current collectors going to sell their collections to?

Both are good questions.

The writer says Young Numismatists are our future and asks what collectors as well as Numismatic News can do to give Young Numismatists a boost.

In the late 1980s I wrote a column addressing this very issue.

It was during the heyday of Florence Schook’s involvement with the American Numismatic Association’s YN program. She was devoted to that cause. If anyone could make a difference with YNs, it was Florence.

However, calling on my own memories of being a youthful collector 20 years before I questioned whether YN programs were worth the effort put into them.

I pointed out the general resistance of young people to doing what adults were telling them was good for them.

It would be nice to think that collectors can be turned out like a classroom full of students learning arithmetic.

Unfortunately, I did not think it was possible.

I remember my own experience. Other than my mother taking me to a hobby shop to buy a Whitman album when I was 8-years-old after I had finished looking at the dates of every cent in the house, I was on my own. I was self-directed.

I was also self-directing my interests in rocks, dinosaurs, astronomy and baseball.

Of all my 8-year-old interests, only coin collecting truly endured.

But some adults tended to see my ongoing interest in coins as a form of arrested development.

He still likes coins at 14? Hmm.

That just made me more fiercely detemined to continue my involvement in numismatics. I had my subscriptions to NN and Coins Magazine as well as a half dozen Red Books to back me up.

In that 1980s column I expressed the thought that a few obstacles helped cement the appeal of collecting in the lives of young people and asked if formal leg-up programs did any good.

Since that time, the YN question keeps being asked.

But also in the last three decades I have received a lot of letters to the editor from despairing elders saying that all of the gifts of coins to children as well as personal help offered to them in collecting has come to nothing.

Of course, these letters are anecdotal.

What might clinch the evaluation of the YN question is if ANA would analyze its membership data.

How many YNs who participated in the formal 1980s program are ANA members today?

The percentage should tell us whether we are just wasting our money on a feel-good undertaking or whether there is indeed a positive result.

Someone who was 14 years old in 1980, would be 50 this year and someone who was that age in 1989 would be 41. The formal YN programs have been going on now long enough that we should be able to reach concrete conclusions about them from hard data.

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

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