Some of us for some time now have been contemplating “the graying of the hobby,” or the notion that youth aren’t as interested in numismatics in a digital age and that older folks are sustaining the hobby but also fading away by attrition.
Our local coin club not only teems with youth but also at times has had almost as many girls as boys. Parents and grandparents take pride in bringing the children to our meetings. We feature door prizes, youth sessions, games and sugary treats.
These following threats have greater potential to decimate the ranks of traditional collectors:
1. Counterfeit coins. We are dealing with Chinese counterfeits as well as ones from previous eras and countries. Numismatic organizations need to keep persuading the Secret Service to crack down on fake coins the way it does fake paper money.
2. Coin doctors. Nothing is as deflating as purchasing a raw coin and submitting it for grading, only to be informed that the devices, luster, tone or other attribute has been artificially enhanced.
3. Self-slabbers. Some unscrupulous sellers invent numismatic-sounding company names and holder their own cleaned and bag-marked coins labeled Mint State 66 to MS-70. These wares often are consigned to estate auctions and described as highly valuable, using Coin Values and other price guides as evidence of worth.
4. Online auctioneers with little numismatic knowledge and poor photography skills are selling counterfeit, self-slabbed and doctored coins on Internet portals. Those portals ought to adopt eBay-like rules to sharpen awareness and expose scammers. Auctioneers ought to warn consignors in formal contracts about penalties for deceptive lots, putting the liability on the sellers.
5. Coin show thefts. Recent thefts have occurred in the past year in Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey, to name just a few states. Increased security at shows not only should focus inside but also outside the bourse during peak loading and unloading activities. Before buying a table, dealers should inquire about security and other safety considerations.
6. Home burglaries. Burglaries of coins are especially invasive because of the personal aspect of the crime. Also, few homeowner policies cover theft of collectibles. Never has it been more prudent to store coins worth $500 or more in safety deposit boxes.
7. Traveling coin shows. These are not shows at all but buying sprees whose representatives often pay below market and melt value for coins. Never sell there without getting an estimate from coin dealers or numismatists.
8. Excessive premiums. In the past year we’ve also witnessed the problems of high premiums by primary sellers of the America the Beautiful 5-ounce silver bullion coins; however, telemarketers have been charging similarly high rates for years. Often the premium alone is the difference between a good and bad purchase.
9. Grading company hype. Top companies should cease creating any more special designations beyond the current pluses, stars, stickers, fractional grades, absent “S” Mint marks, first strikes and releases and other marketing ploys that unnecessarily add to the cost of the hobby.
10. Declining reading rates. Perhaps the biggest future threat to numismatics is declining reading rates and attention spans. A recent government study disclosed that young people (ages 15 to 24) watched more than two hours of television per day and read only about seven minutes.
Longer reading rates and attention spans are requisite if our hobby is to survive, as education and concentration prevent many of the above top threats while sharpening numismatic knowledge.
Michael Bugeja, a coin collector since childhood, is a professor at Iowa State University and also serves as president and Webmaster of the Ames, Iowa, Coin Club. He is a nationally known author, journalist and educator.