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Where Do You Fit?
September 28, 2011

How many times have you heard that the numismatic hobby is aging or downright old and that something must be done to address this problem/crisis?

The state of the hobby and its demographics is not really a problem. In point of fact, if you take the really long view, the demographics now are better than they were when the American Numismatic Association was founded in 1891.

All of it boils down to how life progresses for most people.

Krause’s demographic data show that approximately half of current collectors started before they were 20 years old and another 40 percent started after age 40.

There is a great wasteland between 20 and 40. Newcomers always point to this as an untapped opportunity. But is it?

Most active collectors who started in childhood then go on hiatus as going to college, getting married and raising a family displace less urgent uses for their financial resources. They then come back.

A perfect illustration of this phenomenon was in my email inbox this morning.

“I wanted to drop you a line to say thank you for the 30th anniversary proof set I won in 1982 as a YN at a local coin show in Lanham, Md. I had been going through some old boxes and discovered the award letter (have the coins stashed away in original package). Hard to believe it’s been 30 years. Just wanted to let you know I still have the set and the congrats letter and Happy 60th Anniversary 2012.”

While I cannot prove the sender of the email has been out of the hobby for the last 30 years, I think it is still a pretty good illustration of how life works.

Before the popularization of coin boards in the 1930s and then albums from 1940 on, numismatics was strictly the playground of a small group of middle-aged men who had a little money and a lot of time. They were doctors, lawyers, clergymen and an occasional millionaire like Col. E.H.R. Green.

The albums helped bring in a rush of average people. Coin dealer promoters like B. Max Mehl of Fort Worth, Texas, also helped to involve the masses. He certainly made the 1913 Liberty Head nickel a well-known rarity by offering to buy them for $50 apiece when he well knew he would never have to pay up. But that was enough. It got people to look at their change.

As long as coins exist, the numismatic demographic profile will jiggle around these central truths.

The pending crisis for coin collecting is that projected time in the future when Americans will no longer use coins at all.

It is hard to get people to collect something they are unfamiliar with.

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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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