Recently I read an interesting article on Coinweek, about how difficult it is to win the next generation for the hobby. I just started to write up my thoughts on the subject, not necessarily a response, when I came across another interesting piece, which argues that the best recruit is the middle-aged collector. I don’t want to respond to this one either though it may sound that way, but I would like to add my own $0.02. I believe kids are still good recruits if approached well. I don’t think it is an all or nothing deal, kids can enjoy collecting before they become numismatists.
First let’s talk about the “hobby”. What is the hobby? Who’s hobby? Ok, coin collecting, if we can agree on it. Or, is it numismatics? For the purpose of this article, let’s stick with collecting. When I moved from Hungary, I was surprised to find how differently people collect. In a way, it is a more mature approach, we look at the quality, the history, value and preservation. But I also found that most clubs were very US or North America centric, while in Europe, I was surrounded by a wider array of interests, and lower quality coins. Maybe this is why I got so interested in coins, most of them weren’t too valuable to touch, for example I only learned in the US that you are not supposed to touch other collector’s coins. It was a fair game, we had old and dirty coins with history and memories. Or, let’s look at my hobby, being blind, I can’t appreciate most things collectors do appreciate in their collections. I had to come up with my own interests, and my own enjoyment. It works for me, but may not be interesting for others. Even when I talk to my kids about coins, I try to explain things to them I myself don’t fully understand, such as grading, because it makes more sense to them as they can see it. There are also so many ways of collecting, with or without any end goals. The purpose can vary too, is it enjoyment, investment, both, etc. So, I think the hobby is difficult to generalize, just like a collection is.
To be honest, I was surprised to read that young people are not that interested in collecting. I thought it was the opposite. The state quarter program alone started out millions of collectors. It is possible that their interest didn’t evolve much further than the state quarters, but the market couldn’t possibly supply a hundred million serious collectors either. So, my question is, are we talking about serious collectors, or collectors in general, or where do we draw the line.
I do agree with the statement that there will always be coin collectors, after all, it was interesting for two thousand years, why would it lose its appeal now. But let’s face it, the approach to collecting changed more in the last 50 years with the introduction of coin grading than it did in hundreds of years before. So, is it money which will continue interest collectors? Because if it is, the “hobby” will have to be drastically different. Money does no longer take the shape of coins only. For that matter, coins are more intermediate after trade, barter and primitive money, and they don’t necessarily need to exist. However, money and its different forms shapes the hobby, and develops different interests, such as collecting stamps, credit cards, bonds, stocks, crypto currency, etc. Either in their value preserving forms, or non-redeemable historical shape.
I also agree that the middle-aged collector is a good recruit, but I think for a completely different reason than a child is. I don’t want to say that people don’t develop hobbies in their adult years, but these usually stem from an interest acquired during childhood. Most collectors I know started collecting when they were kids. Just like people who build Lego miracles as adults, played with Lego as a kid. I think the investment approach can be more appealing for this generation than the collecting or numismatic one. And this brings me to the topic I wanted to discuss. There is a way to make kids interested. But as our approach has changed to collecting over the last half century, making kids interested is different as their motivation is different. They live in a sensory overload, and as the Coinweek article states, kids will always have something to collect. At this age, however, this is artificially induced during each holiday season there is something to collect and get invested in, but a year later it is long forgotten, for the sake of something else. Different age groups can find their own things they “must” collect. How would they think about coins differently? It certainly takes guidance from adults, not only in approaching their coin collection, but their collecting habits in general.
Not all kids can be made interested in coin collecting. I’m pretty sure you can interest kids in collecting in general. But what it is, really depends on their personality. If there is the likelihood they can be interested, we can guide and influence them. But why do it, anyway? Personally, all I know is how to collect coins, or how others do it. I can be most convincing when I show that to my kids, while I can support other collections as well. I was also quite convinced that I know how to work with kids on their coin collection when the interest is there, or how to maintain the interest. But how to spark the interest is the big question, and how to know if a kid is interested. I don’t think I have the answer, only a few ideas.
Both of my daughters have different motivations. I of course, started coin collecting with the older one, as soon as she was able to count her coins. But what can I expect at that time? Maybe at the age of five? Well, what a five-year-old can do. Hoard coins into a cup. I started showing her the state quarters, and how they correspond to the map. She couldn’t care less. She did care much more when I got an album and we filled in the holes. Because this is how she is wired. Take a task, and don’t leave it until it is complete. The album had a start and a finish. Then came the younger one, she wanted to be part of the fun, too. So, I started her out with stamp collecting. Well, we live and learn. I was hoping to avoid rivalry. I didn’t get far. Soon the younger one told me she likes stamps but she is more interested in coins. At the age of five or so. What does this really mean here? “I don’t care about neither coins nor stamps, I want to do what you do with my big sister.” This was the extent of her interest.
As I kept pushing the stamps, she realized that it can be her special thing, but I still don’t think she cares a bit about stamps. Later I realized that it is really not her kind of thing anyway, though I’m not going to take it from her, let it be her special thing as long as she wants it to be. But it doesn’t look like she will pick coins instead. For that matter, she brings me all the coins she finds which is not any part of our spending money because I collect coins. What is the interest here? To please dad. And so it does, it is sweet.
But back to the older daughter. For a while I thought she was interested. She was, but not necessarily in coins. The state quarter album was more about the task than the coins. When I dragged her to coin shows, it was more about doing something with me than looking at new coins. I brought coins home from my trips, but I think they would have been just as happy with the shampoo from the hotel. It was about what dad brought home and that he thought about us than the coins. And I still didn’t learn my lesson. I brought home this wonderful maple leaf shaped 2017 Canadian coin set. What a wonderful gift, what else could you ask for from Canada. I didn’t even worry about the cost. But I forgot about the fact that she is a kid, and I had to give her instructions about the coin set. Don’t open it, don’t bend it, keep it clean, don’t scratch it. You will appreciate it when you grow up. Thank me later. Well, she put it away. The poor kid. What a gift. I should have kept it in my office for her when she grows up. It is more fun to dump my wallet, look at what’s left, because something is always left of course, or ask for her help before my next trip to figure out which coins and currency should I take with me from the leftover to the country I’m going to. That’s value. That puts coins into perspective. I think I’m getting there.
It’s not about making the kid interested in something. Rather, about finding out what interests her and connect it to coin collecting if it matters. I tried many things which didn’t spark much interest. Other things did. One day, I ordered a 10 Shilling from the Somalian astrology series with a snake on it. Because at that time she had a snake. It was probably the best coin to give her. Then we can talk about how other coins have snakes on them, for example the Mexican Peso, even though it is half eaten. Well, it sparks more disgust than interest, but let’s face it, now we can talk about Mexico as a different country, and there is a chance she will remember it. Especially if she got a handful after I got home from Mexico. Another good one was a coin with her patron saint we got from her grandparents from Hungary.
Things happen at their own pace. I was trying to encourage collecting by country. I think it was a chore. Until I got a handful of coins from Hungary when she decided to put them into a separate page. Now the organization by country makes sense. Not that it’s being done properly, but I can’t have everything.
Another issue to talk about is how much encouragement kids get when their parents are trying to introduce them to collecting or to collectors. Several times I felt that when we went to a coin show, as soon as we didn’t look like the family with the big bucks it was the end of the attention. I get it that coin dealers are there to make some money. But it is exactly at the coin show where we can have certain conversations. For example, once there was a nice collection of all state quarter, and my daughter wanted to buy it. Not that I didn’t have fifty bucks, but there was something more important to teach. We had to talk about how it was so much more fun to sit around the table together and find those quarters in our pocket change. I didn’t want to take the fun out of collecting just by showing her that I am able to buy it. Besides, she had a budget of five dollars for the day. I get it. We were holding up the line. But some encouragement and a short conversation with the kid here and there might just bring some long-term business. Or not. But will help mentor a young collector. I did have good experience, too. But I have to say it wasn’t the average.
Is it important to pass the hobby along? To me, it is, but not at all cost. Not sure if it will be important to my kids when they grow up. I certainly don’t want to leave a collection behind which won’t be appreciated, or at least sold for what it’s worth, however much my fingerprinty coins will make. It is almost like our language, history which should live. We can encourage the next generation to keep it alive. However, it may not be our kids who will take interest. If our hobby is really that important, we need to be open to mentoring others who care. I often read from well-respected numismatists that it wasn’t necessarily their parents who got them started. From the other side, it means, it is not necessarily our kids we are mentoring.