Two of the most frequently asked questions that I’m faced with are regarding the future of the hobby are:
- Are collectors leaving the hobby in larger numbers than are entering?
- Are there young people interested in the hobby? If so, where are they?
Well, I’ve always answered number one with, “I believe so…” or, “That’s what I’ve staked my career on, so I sure hope not!” But, the answer for number two has always been a bit fuzzier. However, I found that answer this week.
About four months ago, I was asked by my friend, Seth Chandler, owner of Witter Coin, if I’d like to be involved with Witter Coin U. With the absence of the ANA Summer Seminar the last two years, he wanted to do something for the youth that have missed out on two huge summer numismatic events that have long been the most important aspects of the ANA’s educational outreach. For me it was a wholehearted “I’m in”, though I didn’t quite know what to expect.
I joined numismatists from places you may have heard of: PCGS (Steve Feltner), Heritage (Jim Stoutjesdyk), Witter (Seth Chandler), Kagin’s (David McCarthy), and two folks that have flown under the retail radar, Devin Hipp and Dr. Kevin Kauffman (yes, a real doctor, not a coin doctor) in teaching a weeklong course on numismatics. The 25 students that joined the event ranged from age 13 to 21 and came from all over the country. While I was very active in the YN (young numismatists) circuit of activities 20 years ago and 10 years ago, my family and work responsibilities have kept me away in recent years. So, I didn’t know any of these students before I walked in. And I walked away so impressed with these folks. While most of the students found out about the program through Instagram, several heard from other more traditional media sources. When we arrived, we learned that many of these kids knew each other for several years, but they had never met! I always knew that the hobby was based on relationships, but I had no idea that social media would bring so many folks together.
I arrived in the afternoon on Saturday the 24th in San Francisco and after checking in, decided to visit my friend, Seth’s, shop. About a mile or so from the host hotel, I got a ride, and started meeting YNs left and right. And boy was I impressed! Many of these kids hadn’t handled many coins at all, but their knowledge was incredible. It was then that I realized that this was going to be a fun challenge. We spent some time getting to know folks as they arrived before the instructors got together for dinner to discuss the week. Thankfully the instructors had taught similar coin grading classes in the past, but with the flexibility to teach whatever we wanted, we added an entire day discussing the general concepts of the business/hobby and resources that are available to folks, professionally and as collectors. The whole goal was to prepare them for any issues that they may run into as collectors or dealers. These “Coin Dealer Ethics” conversations were a blast to discuss, and as some were very complicated, these conversations carried over into the week. Once we returned to the hotel from dinner, we would run into 10-20 students in the hotel lobby showing or discussing coins and just hanging out. It was in these times that we REALLY got to learn more about the students and their interests.
Day two involved a day of getting to know folks and touring around the city of San Francisco in a semi-guided tour. Seth and David kept the show rolling along while adding commentary about what we were seeing. On our Union Square stop we stopped into Tiffany’s where I learned about jewelry from one of the students who worked at a jewelry shop over the past few years. And while I learned about stones I had never heard of, I also learned about Anabaptist Thalers from another young man. Lastly, my mind was blown when I was introduced to a YN who has been putting together YouTube videos about coins over the past few years. My initial thought was “That’s cute. I’ll follow the channel to add a viewer to his ranks. Hopefully we can add a few viewers this week and maybe he’ll have a few hundred.” Well. When I took a look, he had 80,000 followers! At that point, I realized that these kids weren’t really kids. These folks are the future of our hobby and could be THE leaders in just a few years. Every single one of them had something special about them. Whether it was knowledge from books, studying the hobby, or studying coins…or experience from antiques and jewelry. All of them brought a passion and their own on the hobby. Among them was a girl who inherited a collection and decided to grow it with her father…and she's only 13 and has the most organized collection I’ve ever seen. As well as a student who wants to be a teacher of numismatics to kids himself in the future. I was truly amazed when a young man from rural Alabama told me he was going to study actuarial science with a full scholarship and a goal of building algorithms to price coins. I’m leaving out the folks who set up at flea markets in their town and have built a business around selling steel cents, the midwestern and western US boys that have been working as coin dealers for several years, the young people working for coin dealers currently, and the young man who got into the hobby six months ago after having a horrific accident. The fact that he’s created a business buying mint and proof sets in his hometown purely through social media shows me that the future of numismatics has much hope. There were so many stories that I heard this week that I can’t even share them all. These students are going to places all over the country and are making a difference in their own way and it really does get me excited about our hobby’s future.
On day three we did a full day of class around the basics of the hobby and business, with a side of ethics. The topics and questions were fantastic and we didn’t even touch a single coin. That evening, a small group of the students (groups rotated throughout the week) and instructors visited the coin shop and we hung out there, looked at coins, and learned how the shop works there. In the evening, we once again returned to a lobby full of YNs who just wanted to talk about coins. As I told my wife, “These are my people! We just hang out and talk about coins.” Unfortunately, I realized very quickly that I’m not as young as I used to be, and hanging out to 1:00 AM discussing coins is detrimental to my ability to make it through the next morning very easily. A little coffee did keep me going though and day four was a day of introducing the concepts of coin grading. While some of the concepts were basic, the other instructors taught a master level class on so many different aspects of grading that I learned a ton. The topics gradually dove even deeper into coin grading (which what the students kept asking to learn more about!).
Unfortunately, I had to depart due to a commitment that I had made previously, so I wasn’t able to complete the class. In my short time meeting these folks, I walked away with respect, hope, and new friends. I’m truly excited for the future of the hobby and this opportunity was something that I won’t be able to forget for a long time. While I hope the ANA Summer Seminar is able to reinvent itself next year, I’m 100% in on Witter U next year. The opportunity to give back to the hobby in this way was something that was so incredibly rewarding and I trust the new relationships that have been forged are something that will continue far into the future. Seth: thanks for allowing me to be a part of this, I can’t wait to do it again!
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