By Radek Molchan
I am a Young Numismatist, and I come from a family that has no knowledge or interest in numismatics. I have been a page for many coins shows and I exhibit as much as possible. I enjoy the competition of the exhibits, and I enjoy being a page for the simple fact that if you work hard, you can make a little money and get some coins to add to your collection. Because I am around lots of dealers and people who are interested in coins, I have heard a consistent theme, “we have to get young people into coins or we won’t have our next generation of coin collectors.” It is also a common theme I read in coin magazines, I hear discussed and I get asked about most likely because I am the very youth they are trying to attract for the future.
I think the biggest failing in numismatics is that no one is asking the youth and no one is understanding what we are interested in. Let me provide an example from an exhibit standpoint. Exhibits can be fun and very rewarding, especially when you win. Additionally, you get to bring the exhibits back to your school and local clubs and gain valuable YN dollars from the ANA to participate in live auctions. The connection of having YNs exhibit and understanding what other opportunities they can use their exhibits for is a huge motivator for kids in building knowledge, interest in coins, and giving them collecting ideas.
One of the first exhibits I ever did was on “How to Be a Trillionaire: The World’s Devalued Currencies.” This exhibit was 100 percent my idea – no help or influence from anyone in any way. From being a page, I was able to bargain and collect a Zimbabwe 100 trillion bill, the Yugoslavian’s 500 billion-dinar bank note, Indonesia’s 100,000 rupiah as well as other devalued currencies from Greece, Zaire, and Vietnam. I then put together an exhibit with the date of the greatest devaluation of the respective currency and how many Happy Meals it could buy (and included a Happy Meal box in my exhibit for visual attractiveness). It was typed, triple-matted and I followed the judge’s guidelines closely. The irony is that I saw many people looking at my exhibit, so I must admit I felt a little confident in my placing in the YN category. The final result? I had the worst score of all the YNs. There were eight competitors, and kids usually share scores with each other. First and Second Place went to exhibits on WWII type coins, and third place went to tokens. While I thought first place was a well-done exhibit, I do not feel the second or third places were that well done.
Furthermore, two of the exhibits that beat me based on scores were poorly constructed, not eye-appealing at all and contained little to no numismatic information. However, all seven of the exhibits did have something I didn’t – they were old. Not Roman coin old, but generationally old. The judges are people that look at coins from their times or their parents’ times with reverence. I assume because this is what they experience, this is what they liked – they are familiar with it. However, those exhibits don’t resonate with me or my generation. While collectors that like historical context are very fond of certain types of old coins, the historical context of my generation isn’t very much. A World War II token isn’t as impressive to me as having a chance of being a trillionaire in various countries. However, from an educational perspective, I pointed out that even though you were a trillionaire in Zimbabwe at the height of their devaluation, that you would still have to borrow money as a trillionaire to buy just one Happy Meal. My generation understands Happy Meals, and we are also the generation that is experiencing more millionaires and billionaires than ever before. This generational understanding is important because it connects to us. Oh, remember me telling you all the people that were looking at my exhibit? They had one thing in common: they weren’t coin collectors. They looked like kids and moms that were caught by something that caught their attention because it resonated with their time.
Let me provide another example. There are barriers of participation in exhibits that involve youth. One of the best shows that a YN can participate in is the Georgia Numismatic Association (GNA) show. They make exhibiting, participating and competing easy and fun. Honestly, had I never competed in a GNA show early on, I doubt I would’ve competed in other shows. For example, if the GNA show starts on Wednesday, they will allow the YNs to set up on Friday. Why is this important? My parents aren’t coin dealers, so we aren’t going to be at a coin show on Wednesday or Thursday for set-up. I don’t own a car, so I become reliant on someone to take me far away to compete in a coin show as my dad explains to me that the yield on hotels and travel for three days isn’t worth it. I understand what he is saying. I have tried to compete at other shows in several other states and the chairpersons that run the exhibits always refuse to let YNs set up later.
So, if you are in Florida for a show and you live far away, you have to figure out how to get set up by Thursday morning and be around until late Saturday night. That is fine if you live close by; however, it becomes a barrier for a YN that lives far away. It becomes costly, and I am counting on convincing others I need help. My parents won’t budge on this, and I suspect many youths that would like to compete would do more if they could. I love the GNA as they work with the youth to give them a chance to compete. I have done shows in three other states and after the first time of exhibiting in each of these shows, my parents simply won’t go back. My parents are awesome as they don’t mind taking me anywhere to do a show if it is on a Saturday and Sunday – it is when I have to miss extra days of school and the cost becomes too high to compete. Competing is one of the greatest rewards for a Young Numismatist. You get a chance to win prizes and if it is a good show you almost always at least get a silver round. My point is that shows need to work harder to reduce the barriers for YNs, we all don’t have coin dealer parents that we are tagging along with. You want to get the youth that aren’t connected to the coin world involved.
In the spirit of exhibits, my last example is judging. A YN needs to be judged differently. I don’t have coin dealer parents, and I don’t have expensive rare coins. I generally work the dealer floor trying to find items for an exhibit. Additionally, I know my exhibit will probably not look as good as an adult that has been exhibiting for years. While my parents give me guidance and advice, they require me to do my own exhibits. I recently had two colonial notes in an exhibit that I competed with. They were the only thing in my exhibit that weren’t real. I put under them “Reproduction: For Educational Purposes Only.” The head judge said I was misleading and I needed to put an “s” after the word “Reproduction” because there were two of them, not one, and since the U.S. Mint was at the show, they could potentially get us in trouble for counterfeit money. My first issue is that the U.S. Mint never produced these as it was before the U.S. Mint even existed. My second issue is that to own these two notes would be very expensive. And my third is I felt that since they were mounted together with the “Reproduction: For Educational Purposes Only” under them, then this would satisfy any problems.
I love collecting coins. I wish I had more, and I wish I could do more shows. I have learned lots about coins, and I am still trying to convince my dad to buy the ANA correspondence course for me. However, you have to look at things from my generation to help bridge the gap for the next generation of coin collectors. Assuming that we have still have it, I will be in Pittsburgh for the World’s Fair of Money 2020 paging and exhibiting (how I talked my dad into this show, I still don’t know). Ask guys like me what we like and what interests us. Let us give you a different perspective. υ