Over the past several months, in letters and columns, writers have bemoaned the future of coin collecting — from the “graying of the hobby” to its end.
They’ve cited typical indicators: low show attendance, lackluster coin designs, poor metallic content and too many commemorative coins. Today’s youth, they claim, are “connected” to other pursuits, namely Internet and mobile technologies.
No one has presented any hard evidence this is the case.
In the coin-collecting heyday of 1950, the number of children ages 5 to 17 totaled 28.2 million. By 2010, that figure was nearly double, at 49.4 million. The U.S. Census Bureau, which provided these numbers, forecasts steady population growth in these sectors through 2050.
That’s a pretty big pool from which to recruit future hobbyists. That is not to say we shouldn’t be concerned. The problem, if there is one, may have to do more with gray-hairs than the hobby.
According to a June 22, 2011, news release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adults living in households where the youngest child is between the ages of 6 and 17 interact meaningfully with children a mere 47 minutes per day. Adults spend a whopping 4 minutes per day speaking with children in that age bracket, and most of that interaction, by the way, is done by women.
Of the several categories in the “American Time Use” survey, from physical care and education of children to looking after them or attending their events, women on average spend more time than men, except in one category, “playing/doing hobbies with children.”
Did you know that 92 percent of Coin World readers are men? The publication’s most recent survey reported readers spend an average of 1.4 hours reading an issue, far surpassing the 31 minutes each day that men typically spend interacting with children in the same household.
This month I am stepping down as president of the Ames (Iowa) Coin Club, known for its emphasis on youth members. Here are minutes from our last meeting:
“Four coins were handed out to youth members present. Each youngster is to prepare a report on the coin he or she was given, for presentation at the next meeting, after which will follow a vote to select the presentation considered the best. Each child will get to keep the coin about which their report was made (if the club gives “thumbs up” to the presentation) and the winning presenter will also receive a bonus coin, a 1946 Iowa Centennial commemorative half dollar.
“Plans are being made to videotape the presentations.”
The minutes then described winners of our annual “Penny Roll Game,” featured in the May 17, 2010, issue of Coin World, illustrated by a photo of children and adults searching through rolls of pre-packaged coins for the hidden key date cent.
Currently in our club, our youngest member is age 5; our oldest is in his 80s. It’s difficult to distinguish members by age during our “Penny Roll Game” because we tend to express the same emotion when finding the cent, usually a 1931-S example.
Here is a short list of how to engage children ages 5 to 17 — the earlier the better:
1. Join your local coin club and play an active role in recruiting and engaging youth, publicizing activities in your area media.
2. Encourage youth members to apply for numismatic scholarships to attend seminars and, if your child is selected, accompany her or him to the event.
3. Promote or participate in numismatic opportunities in youth organizations, such as the Boy Scouts’ Coin Collecting Merit Badge or the Brownies’ Fun with Money Patch.
4. Tell your child’s teachers about “History in Your Pocket Change” by the U.S. Mint (www.usmint.gov/kids), featuring games, cartoons and dozens of other online learning activities that can be introduced into the classroom or even assigned as “homework with parents.”
5. Tour the U.S. Mint or one of its branches on your next vacation.
6. Visit parks and other sites of the America the Beautiful quarter dollar series and commemorate the occasion with the appropriate coin for each family member.
7. Take your children to coin shows and give them a set amount to spend, guiding them on the best purchases.
8. Give numismatic birthday and holiday gifts not only to your children but to their friends, too, such as partially filled folders of presidential dollars, Indian Head cents or 5-cent coins, or even silver certificates.
9. Invite children to participate in your collecting activities and set registries, helping catalog or photograph coins.
10. Pay your children’s allowance in coins, preferably rolls, and search with them for rarities and varieties. As soon as you find one, sell it and give the child the proceeds, potentially hooking them on coins for a lifetime.
The future of collecting is as rosy or thorny as we make it. This much is certain: If we don’t build relationships with our children and grandchildren now, then we will have failed as numismatic stewards.
Michael J. Bugeja is a professor of journalism and has been a coin collector since childhood. He is author the “Home Hobbyist” column published monthly in Coin World.