One of the biggest decisions most collectors make is whether to buy a coin for a significant amount of money over face value. Most persons who call themselves collectors never can bring themselves to cross that threshold. I am not talking big money here. I am simply talking about buying a proof set from the Mint or from a dealer, or buying a 1950-D nickel to fill a hole in a basic Whitman album.
This is a key point in a collector?s development. It is a process that winnows the field down from the 140 million or so Americans the Mint says collect state quarters and the ranks of collectors serious enough to back their curiosity with their hard-earned money. Those who take that step become part of a group of two or three million people.
The reason most people who label themselves collectors cannot bring themselves to take the step of spending money is one of the great issues that professionals in the numismatic field have pondered for my whole career and probably since the first coin dealer appeared. Marketers are eager to show that somehow what they consider to be a peculiarity can somehow be proved to stem from defective marketing, or even no marketing at all.
In my experience, there has been no true test on any significant scale. All that marketing within numismatics has tended to do is reshuffle preferences and habits of the same root group of people. That may be about to change.
I had a nice discussion with Kevin Hamer, deputy associate director for sales and marketing at the U.S. Mint. The purpose was to review the Mint?s new prices for 14 of its regular annual products.
However, in the discussion, I was offered the news that new Mint products were in the works. Hamer called them entry level products that will be designed to appeal to collectors of state quarters. This is interesting.
This tells me two things. The first is that the Mint?s marketers probably noticed that their customers seem to be the same root group as the rest of us deal with. The second thing that it tells me is that as a marketer, Hamer and his colleagues are probably salivating at all those zeroes in the number 140,000,000.
The Mint does not have limitless resources. It might even be argued that firms like Heritage outmarket them year in and year out. However, what the Mint has is national stature and a national outlook. One thing that I can always count on as an editor is the fact that virtually all of my readers take an interest in the doings of the Mint whether they actually buy new issues or not.
These new entry level products will get my readers? attention. That, of course, is less the point, than whether they also get the attention of all of those casual state quarter collectors. If history is any guide, the Mint will end up finding that the buyers of these new products essentially will be the same old group.
However, it will be interesting to see a proper test conducted. At long last, I will have objective proof that either the characteristics of the numismatic market that I have observed professionally for almost three decades are changeable with the right marketing pitch, or that they are not. It will be great for me either way. My readers, especially my readers who are numismatic professionals, want to know. Certainly the leaders of the firm that owns Numismatic News would like this information as well.
In 30 years, the readership of Numismatic News has cycled up and down with the health of the overall hobby. However, readers tend to come out of the same pool over time. Some drop out because of family or other personal reasons. Some drop out as their level of interest rises and falls. By the same token, dropouts often drop back in as time, finances and interest allow.
Can the U.S. Mint break this pattern? It would be great if it could. Numismatic News could have the circulation of Time Magazine if this were so. That will make my professional colleagues salivate as much as the staff at the Mint. Good luck, U.S. Mint. I want you to succeed.