Clifford Mishler has long made the observation that people usually collect what they know.
People my age who are car collectors are drawn to the muscle cars of the late 1960s and early 1970s from a time when we were young. Coin collectors zero in on their memories of what they used to make purchases.
But what if the coming generation has no memories of using coins? Then where will we be?
Old-timers have long pointed out that coins can’t compete with computer games. That has always sounded true. It probably is. It sounds rational. But what if it isn’t even a question of making a choice at all? What if young adults have no memory of coins?
A couple of years ago, I observed a high school student who was a new cashier at the grocery store. She counted out nearly a dollar’s worth of change in dimes when quarters would have done the job better. But she did not seem familiar with how to make the sum add up correctly using quarters. I got a lot of dimes instead, as well as a column, out of the encounter.
I have just repeated the experience. This time it was in the “big” city of Stevens Point, Wis.
A trainee at McDonald’s did the same thing as the other cashier. I received change of 83 cents one dime at a time, eight dimes and three cents.
I could not see inside the cash drawer. I did not dare try to crane my neck to take a peek. I would have looked very odd. Without seeing inside the cash drawer, it is possible that there were simply no quarters.
However, I judged the tentative manner of the trainee as a lack of familiarity with counting out sums using quarters.
This is not a complaint. Service was quick. I was on my way rapidly. The trainee will find counting change to be second nature very soon.
But what of all the other high school kids out there who do not have a job requiring the counting out of change? They will never learn. They will never achieve that easy familiarity with coins that all Numismatic News readers take for granted.
In consequence, not only will they have few memories of using coins, those they do have might just be painful ones.
If you can’t figure out on the fly that three quarters, a nickel and three cents are the best way to reach 83 cents, you are not likely to take up collecting quarters – or dimes.
Helping the next generation obtain fond memories of coins is getting tougher all the time. McDonald’s can’t hire everyone.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today
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