Whenever there is a major change in coins or currency in circulation in the United States, there has been a spark of new collecting interest.
Personally, I was brought into the hobby along with much of my extended family when the Kennedy half dollar debuted in 1964. This coin was considered to be almost a commemorative of the recently assassinated president.
As it turned out, the 1964 date was also the last year that the U.S. Mint issued 90 percent silver coins (although some 1964-dated coins were struck in 1965).
When the U.S. Mint began issuing the state series in 1999, it sparked a tremendous amount of public interest. At its peak, the Mint claimed that there were 147 million people accumulating them (by which I mean that most of them were not seriously becoming numismatists in the process).
When I was growing up, newspapers were almost all delivered by children, who also had the responsibility of collecting subscriber money. Because of this exposure, many children (mostly boys) of the era became coin collectors.
Today, society is different. Printed newspapers are far less popular, of which a higher percentage are distributed by adults, and where the newspaper takes care of billing and being paid for subscriptions. Thus, relatively fewer children in the United States today are potentially drawn into numismatics by this activity.
Another change is the significant shift in America from paying cash for purchases to using credit or debit cards. In general, people handle coins and currency much less often than they used to.
So, is numismatic interest growing or not? The answer seems to be – it depends.
I have worked in a retail coin store for the past 37 years. It is located in a metropolitan area with a population of about one-third of a million. There has been a definite decline in the number of young numismatists and even adult collectors who stop by to shop with some regularity. We also have lower retail sales at coin shows than occurred in past decades. Some of this is offset, at least partly, by the increase in online demand in sales by our own company, where there were none back in the 1980s. Just looking at these changes, you might be quite worried that the hobby of numismatics is losing ground the same way that has happened with philately, also known as stamp collecting.
Supporting this pessimism, the average age of members of the American Numismatic Association has, unfortunately, increased almost 10 years over the past decade or so at the same time that its membership has dwindled.
But there is reason to hope that numismatics may be gaining collectors in different ways.
In a recent interview in The MichMatist, the magazine of the Michigan State Numismatic Society, Jim Stoutjesdyk, Vice President of Numismatics for Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas, points out this his company’s auction at this past January’s Florida United Numismatists show received bids from more than 8,000 people even though only a few hundred personally attended the sales. He is amazed how many six- and seven-figure coins his company can place with new owners who have not personally examined the acquisitions ahead of the auctions.
I sometimes visit local coin shops when I attend coin shows around the country. In years past, it was often an opportunity to acquire some goodies for which the dealer didn’t have a local outlet. But in the past year, I have heard multiple times from dealer friends that they don’t really have anything to sell me because “all the good stuff I get now goes for sale online.” Obviously, someone else is buying these coins and currency.
Another dealer friend who specializes in foreign coinage told me at the ANA that, while American numismatic interest has matured and may be on the way down, there are a number of countries where rising prosperity is leading to an increase in the numismatic treasures of that nation.
India is a prime example, where the middle-class population has reached 300 million. Demand is also higher in China and several other countries. Further, the rising numismatic demand in these other countries is not necessarily restricted to only domestic issues.
The answer to the question of whether numismatic interest is growing or not depends on your perspective. As is almost always true, the collecting of coins and currency goes through fads and phases, where some niches are falling out of favor while others are surging. Part of the enjoyment of being a numismatist is trying to figure out exactly what is going on with these niches.
Patrick A. Heller is winner of the American Numismatic Association 2018 Glenn Smedley Memorial Service Award, 2017 Exemplary Service Award, 2012 Harry Forman Dealer of the Year Award and 2008 Presidential Award. He was also honored by the Numismatic Literary Guild in 2017 and 2016 for the Best Dealer-Published Magazine/Newspaper and for Best Radio Report. He is the communications officer of Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Mich., and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter on rare coins and precious metals subjects. Past newsletter issues can be viewed at http://www.libertycoinservice.com. 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 (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com).
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today
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