Rare Coins - The Next Generation

Posted on 4/10/2014

Attracting and retaining young people to the hobby has never been more important.

When I began collecting rare coins in the 1970s, nearly every kid my age collected something. Baseball cards and comic books were a leading favorite, but rare coins were always close behind. Others collected fossils, stamps, and all sorts of different artifacts that seemed interesting to a teenager growing up. Of course, collecting something in those days was more interesting than watching whatever happened to be on one of three television channels available. There was also no electronic media begging for our attention 24/7. No one had even thought about social media or the Internet. Video games were limited to Pong, an electronic ping pong game found in bars or the bowling alley. Collecting rare coins consumed most of my free time, which in those days was considerable compared to the hectic world young people live in today.

It would probably be a safe bet to say that a large number of today’s coin collectors and dealers started out in a similar fashion to my early experience. Many of the most advanced collectors in the world started out collecting coins as a young person. Their interest may have waned at one point, but once they had more time and financial strength, they picked the hobby back up with a stronger desire than ever before. Many great coins are expensive because once people can afford them they want to purchase the rare coins they only dreamed about when they were kids. The great collector, Eric Newman started collecting coins in 1918 at the age of 7 when his grandfather gave him an 1859 Cent. His collecting interest has continued for nearly 100 years!

Many passionate coin collectors are now in their retirement years, as Eric Newman is. The aging demographic of numismatics is an important issue for anyone who cares about coin collecting. Young people are critical to the long-term success of the numismatic hobby. Twenty-five years from now, long-term collectors need someone to be there to purchase the rare coins they also only dreamed about as a kid. I have been told that the average age of the ANA membership is now close to 60 years old. The PNG membership probably has a similar average age, as well. The same could probably be said of the subscriber base for Coin World and Numismatic News. In my opinion, attracting and retaining young people to the hobby has never been more important.

Unlike other hobbies, most notably stamp collecting, which is dying in America, many in numismatics make considerable efforts to attract young collectors. The ANA spends large sums each year offering programs, educational opportunities, seminars, auctions, and many other activities catered specifically to young numismatists. It is probably one of the most important and vastly underrated functions of the organization. In the next few months, the ANA will be conducting its annual summer seminars in Colorado Springs. Dozens of young people attend each year, many with fully paid scholarships. My first airplane flight was to attend the ANA summer seminar in 1974. The experience changed my life, and soon, after I had no doubt of my career choice. Recently, another dealer related to me that a young person now working for APMEX told him that attending the ANA summer seminar gave him a career in numismatics and changed his life. That’s over 40 years of doing a great service to anyone collecting rare coins.

When I started collecting coins in the 1970s, local coin clubs were an important part of my life. I attended a local club almost weekly when I was growing up in the Tampa Bay area. Because of this, I have always been a strong supporter of the local coin club in Lexington, Kentucky. Each month, our local coin club tries to attract and offer things of interest to young collectors. This has paid huge dividends! We have sent several young folks to Colorado Springs for the summer seminar, and one of our young members has already declared numismatics as his career choice. This young collector is extremely sharp, and I’m sure his future is extremely bright as a professional numismatist. He occasionally serves as an intern in my office, and I feel fortunate to have him.

Jeff Garrett was a junior officer in the Clearwater Coin Club in the 1970s

The PNG has recently started an advanced internship program for young people interested in becoming rare coin dealers. Four or five young people will soon start working for a few months each in major numismatic operations around the country. NGC is hosting spots for those interested in grading. I can’t think of a better way for anyone interested in rare coins to learn so much in a short period of time. I am very hopeful this program is successful for the PNG. Many young people spend four years in college and come out ill-prepared to make a decent living. One thing that is for sure, anyone with the proper skills can make a very lucrative career out of numismatics. There is also the huge advantage of doing something you love for a living.

My son, Ben Garrett, also worked for NGC for several years and left them with the skills to start his own numismatic business. He also crafted long term friendships with other young people that will serve him for many years to come. Ryan Carroll, the chief numismatic buyer for Heritage Rare Coins, worked as a coin grader before starting his illustrious numismatic career with that firm. Another young star is Mike Berkman. Like many others before him, he dropped out of college to pursue numismatics on a full time basis. Thanks to the opportunities given these and many other young people, there is quite a bit of fresh blood in our business.

There are huge distractions and competition for the attention of young people in America. Social media seems to sap nearly every minute of free time from young adults. Hopefully, this trend will reverse itself, or perhaps, social media could be utilized to attract and retain more young collectors to numismatics. It is a fight well worth engaging for anyone who cares about the future of numismatics. Luckily, our hobby leaders understand this need and continue to invest considerable sums towards this goal. I do think these efforts are working, as I am seeing more and more young people attending numismatic events. I encourage everyone to take the time to introduce our great hobby to someone young. You just might wish they were there in 25 years when your Registry Set of Jefferson Nickels comes up for sale on Platinum night!

Questions about the rare coin market? Send them to wmr@ngccoin.com.

Jeff Garrett bio

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