The American Numismatic Association reports that its average member is now over 60 years old. When I was a member of the ANA’s Future of the Hobby Committee over a decade ago, the average member age was then about 51. The trend of a graying membership is not a positive sign for the future of numismatics.
If numismatics is to continue as a popular hobby, existing collectors need to foster and help mentor the next generation. There is a mercenary reason why current collectors would want to encourage children and young adults to become collectors. The more collectors there are, the greater will be the potential demand (and, therefore, higher prices) for your own collection when it comes time to sell.
However, I think that most collectors would want to support budding numismatists because doing so will bring them additional enjoyment of their own pursuits. If you think back to your own path to becoming a collector of coins, paper money, or exonumia, you were almost certainly supported by a family member or friend who was already a collector.
The good news is that there are a number of venues of support for new collectors available at no charge. The not-so-good news is that many collectors are not aware of the extent of what is available to share with the next generation.
Here are some details you can pass along with new and prospective coin and paper money collectors so that they can augment what you may personally offer.
The American Numismatic Association has a “Coins for A’s” program. Any student that earns three or more A’s per marking period in school can send a copy of that to the ANA to receive a coin and also a free one-year membership in the ANA. More details can be found here.
The ANA on its website lists a number of other opportunities for young numismatists. Among the activities are participating in earning YN dollars and then bidding in YN auctions, becoming a numismatic journalist (some activities of which may also be used for school assignments), Summer Seminars, the Ancient Coin Project, the Early American Coin Project, Money ‘Musements and Treasure Trivia. Several of these activities also welcome adults. At ANA conventions, young collectors can participate in YN activities. Searching through the entire ANA website can uncover other helpful information for collectors young and old.
The ANA website also has a lot of the information so that Boy Scouts, typically 11-17 years old, can complete the requirements to earn a Coin Collecting Merit Badge. Hint – adults can consider qualifying to become a Coin Collecting Merit Badge Counselor. One of my co-workers has done this for years. Find more information here.
The ANA website has details on the requirements for the various Girl Scout requirements for the Fun With Money patches.
The United States Mint’s website has a tremendous amount of information available here. In this section is information on the Mint’s coin and medal programs, collecting basics, finding a coin club, lessons on how coins are made, educational information and activities for educators, parents, and children, U.S. Mint history and stories about U.S. Mint artists.
Especially fun for children is the U.S. Mint’s h.i.p. pocket change section of the website. The acronym refers to the fact that coins are “history in your pocket." Beyond information about the Mint, its history, and coins and medals there are also games and toons.
As for educators, the Mint has extensive numismatic lesson plans, a list of activities, trivia and other resources available here.
The ANA, the U.S. Mint, many other mints, and some coin organizations offer free online videos. Have fun exploring just what is out there. The ANA, Central States Numismatic Society and many other collector organizations support numismatic clubs by providing speakers, videos and other materials for meeting programs.
A visit to a numismatic display in a museum can add to the enjoyment of vacation travel. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. houses the National Numismatic Collection. This is perhaps the most impressive exhibit of rare coins and paper money anywhere in the world. However, the numismatic holdings on display at the British Museum in London, England are also impressive. There are major numismatic museum exhibits around the United States, such as at the ANA headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. Some museums exhibit modest quantities of coins and paper money, such as the collection on display at Hillsdale College in Michigan that I visited this year, but they each share the story of numismatics.
Many reference books and catalogs are costly enough to challenge the budgets of young collectors. School and public libraries may have some volumes available for borrowing at no charge, though some books might be out-of-date editions. Some libraries will have extensive selections while others offer little. But, until you check it out, you never know what you might discover. The ANA offers members the opportunity to borrow from its extensive numismatic library, though there are some postage costs involved.
I have also observed over the past several years that general bookstores have a larger variety of numismatic volumes available for purchase.
Some of the best resources are available at little to no cost, such as joining collector organizations from the local to state to national and from general numismatics to highly focused niches. A quick online search will turn up any in your local area. Many local clubs can also be found at the ANA website here.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a coin or paper money collector is simply looking at lots of numismatic items held in your own hands. Perhaps the best places to see many items in a concentrated time are by attending coins shows. Most coin shows are open to the public at no charge, though a few charge a modest fee. Show size can range from a handful of dealers at a local venue to hundreds of tables at national and regional shows.
If you have an interest in speaking to schools and other organizations, I have delivered a PowerPoint presentation in several states that can help you develop a great program to potentially attract new collectors. Its title is “Create Fun-Filled Numismatic Presentations For The General Public.” You may adapt this program to your local area to make the history of money come alive to attendees. Email me at email@example.com and I will be delighted to forward a copy to you.
Last, coin dealers can also be a tremendous resource for fostering young collectors. I have heard countless stories over the years about how a collector or dealer attributes their strong interest in numismatics to the encouragement and mentoring they received from a dealer. You can think of visiting a coin shop as somewhat like visiting a museum.
To summarize, you can support young numismatists by sharing your own knowledge and also links to contacts such as those listed in this article. When you take the time to foster new collectors, that may help you get better financial results when selling your holdings. However, it will almost certainly bring a richer payoff in the greater enjoyment of your own hobby experiences.
Patrick A. Heller was the American Numismatic Association 2012 Harry Forman Numismatic Dealer of the Year Award winner. He was also honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the owner emeritus and communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Some of his radio commentaries titled “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and Friday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing.
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