US Coins

Coins & Trains: The Investment Column

An elongated Lincoln cent serves as a memento of the Model Railroad Museum in San Diego’s Balboa Park, the world’s largest operating model railroad museum.

Original image courtesy of eBay seller MattMan34

How do you keep a hobby vibrant and fresh? The subject was tackled in a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, where James R. Hagerty talked about the issues the model train collecting community has had in the past decade as today’s collectors stop participating in the hobby with nobody to replace them. 

The parallels between model trains and coin collecting were striking. 

Both hobbies are generally practiced by people when they are young and then picked up by these same people in later adulthood. 

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Both teach valuable skills. In creating model railroads, people learn about carpentry, electricity, painting skills, and the history and development of trains and railroads, while coin collecting engages an interest in history, economics, organization, and the practice of sharpening observational skills. 

But, sadly, as Hagerty pointed out, “Once thought of as every boy’s dream toy, model trains have become a domain mainly for old men. At clubs devoted to the hobby, members below 60 years old are the young bucks.” Ever been to a coin club lately? The same is true for many coin clubs around the country. 

Sure, the friendly fictional steam locomotive Thomas the Tank remains popular, but train aficionados are concerned that young people aren’t taking up model railroading as a lifetime hobby. 

Those promoting the train hobby point to rapidly changing technology, where computerized controls are common and users can download train sounds. Model train manufacturer stalwart Lionel continues to adapt its products to the interests of young people, creating tracks more like roller-coasters, and futuristic trains. Howard Hitchcock, chief executive of Lionel, said, “We have to come up with things that jazz up the kids of today.”

Mints around the world are trying to create innovative coins at various price levels to capture the interests of young people and new buyers, incorporating clever designs, popular subjects and minting innovations to attract new buyers. Only time will tell if these efforts succeed in sparking a long-term interest in coin collecting.

How will young people be introduced to coin collecting today to protect the value of rare coin investments? After all, a coin is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and for a market to be viable, there has to be a broad mix of buyers and sellers. 

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