Expanding the Hobby

Posted on 7/13/2017

Attracting young people is vital if numismatics is to thrive going forward.

My term as president of the American Numismatic Association is about to end. The past two years have literally flown by. I am often asked if I’m glad it’s over, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Being president of the ANA has been a wonderful experience, and I will always cherish the memories. I have worked with a great board of governors and a fabulous staff in the last two years trying to improve the ANA and the hobby. We all know there are considerable headwinds facing numismatics, and the ANA is one of the most important organizations in a position to fight the battle. With nearly 25,000 members, there is power in numbers. I now look forward to becoming one of the many wonderful volunteers who make the ANA great. Working together, we can take measures that will ensure the future of numismatics.

Nearly everyone agrees that attracting young people to the hobby is vital if our hobby is to thrive going forward. The average ANA member is about 60, and that is not a recipe for success. In generations past, collecting was a prime interest for young people. When I began collecting coins in the 1970s, kids collected everything — baseball cards, stamps, fossils, arrow heads, coins, and about anything old. Most young people today have much less interest in collecting anything, and if it’s not on their cellphone, it’s not important. Social media has completely changed the equation when trying to reach a young demographic.

I do think there is hope for our hobby in the long run if the right action is taken to expand the hobby. The ANA spends a considerable amount of its resources on Young Numismatists. It’s probably the best thing our national organization does. A few weeks ago, I attended both sessions of the ANA Summer Seminars in Colorado Springs. Over 300 individuals participate each year in the Summer Seminar. A significant number of these include young people, most of whom are attending on full scholarships. They all LOVE Summer Seminar, and you can tell these young people will all be collectors for life. One young lady gave an eloquent speech during closing ceremonies and spoke of her deep appreciation of the experience and the many lifelong friends she had made.

The ANA and its outreach to young people can actually change lives. This week, I met another young lady who had taken every grading class, some multiple times, over the last 6 years. She is now a grader working at NGC, and has chosen numismatics as a possible career option. NGC is very involved in the ANA Summer Seminar and has for years sent employees to teach classes in grading and other subjects. Many of the employees at NGC started as students during Summer Seminar, and it’s great to see the cycle of giving back that NGC encourages.

The ANA is also highly visible at most large rare coin conventions around the country working with young people. Its many volunteers are there to offer games, sample coins, and books about the hobby. The most recent Summer FUN convention in Orlando was extremely busy, with young people running around participating in a numismatic trivia contest. There were also volunteers in attendance to let parents and their kids know about the many wonderful programs the ANA offers for young collectors. This includes the Coins for A’s Project, the Ancient Coin Project (I still have my ancient coins I earned over 40 years ago in the same program) and many others. I suggest that anyone with young kids or grandchildren visit money.org to find out the many ways the ANA engages and encourages young people.

The ANA and many other groups work very hard to attract and keep young collectors. Much more can and should be done, however, for the hobby to expand. Hobby leaders will need to be more adept at using technology to attract young collectors. If young people are on their cellphones every waking minute, that is where the hobby needs to be. To my knowledge, there has not been any attempt at gamification of numismatics. Also, social media will undoubtedly play a crucial role in numismatics if the hobby is to thrive. This will require a great deal of expertise that many of my generation does not possess. Hopefully, the resources of manpower and money can be found to attack this going forward.

The United States Mint can also do more to attract young collectors. Many other world mints devote considerable attention to marketing coins for young people. In the last couple of years, I have seen firsthand some amazing products geared to young people at the British Royal Mint and the Canadian Royal Mint. They have a philosophy about planting numismatic seeds with young people, hoping they will become serious collectors when they have the funds and time for hobby pursuits later in life. The State Quarters program, which began in 1999, created a huge number of casual collectors. Many went on to become more serious about the hobby. Hopefully, another idea such as this can be developed.

Everyone who has a coin collection has a stake in this battle. If you want to sell your collection someday, you will need someone there willing to buy it. There is no one solution, in my opinion. We will need to all work together to expand the hobby. This includes hobby organizations, coin dealers, collectors, mints, numismatic media, and grading companies. The ANA is working hard on this problem, but it does not have the resources to accomplish it alone. Numismatics has a great story, and if we all make an effort, the hobby will be relevant for years to come.

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Jeff Garrett bio

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