Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Is numismatics in danger?

I have seen a statistic making the rounds on social media; it says the average ANA member is in their mid-sixties. I have also seen extensive coverage on the U.S. Mint's Invigorating the Coin Collecting Hobby - Numismatic Forum. Both of these topics address the same problem: How to get more and younger people interested in numismatics.

My mind dwelt on this subject for about a week. I was trying to figure out how to bring younger people into numismatics, thus dropping the average age of ANA members and invigorating the hobby. I considered coin collecting apps, better social media engagement, and a recent acquaintance had recommended taking to the schools to use coins as teaching tools. It wasn't until last night, when I finally reached a level of supreme frustration, that I asked myself a question that flipped the situation on its head.

Is there really a problem?

From what I have read, two metrics were used to measure the current state of numismatics. One is the average age of ANA members. The other is the number of active customers the U.S. Mint has.

Absorb that for a moment. I'll wait...

The ANA's Problem

Perception: ANA membership statistics are a good gauge of interest in numismatics as a whole.

Reality: The cost of an ANA membership isn't really worth it for casual collectors.

The ANA is an excellent source of information, but, unless you plan to do some heavy numismatic research, the internet can provide all of the information you need for free. My guess is that most current ANA members have been involved with the organization for years. Many may be lifetime members. Many younger collectors, like me (I'm 33), do not see the value in joining.

The U.S. Mint's Problem

Perception: Sales are down because fewer people are interested in numismatics.

Reality: Fewer people are buying directly from the Mint.

It is crazy to say interest in the hobby is on the decline simply because the Mint can't move as much product as it used to. I have never ordered an item from the U.S. Mint, and I don't intend to start. I have a very limited collecting budget and I believe it is better spent on coins I am actually interested in. I prefer my coins to be older. 

Take a moment to consider all of the places someone can acquire a coin. I have come up with the following:
Pocket change
The bank
Pawn shop
Brick and mortar coin shop
Online coin shop
Live auctions
Online auctions
From fellow collectors online
From fellow collectors offline

That is a lot of options and none of them are the Mint. Although, you could argue the Mint is an online dealer, and you'd be right, but they are far from the only one.

There is not really a problem with numismatics unless all coin dealers are seeing numbers slump and values are dropping. I feel safe saying there has never been a time in the history of numismatics where more coins and more information have been available than right now.

It is possible some numismatic mainstays are on the way out. Kind of like how you don't see many payphones anymore. When cell phones rendered payphones unnecessary, AT&T didn't try to figure out how to bring the kids back to payphones, they began offering cell plans. The ANA could do something similar by digitizing their library. Also, how cool would it be if the ANA ran a crowdsourced numismatic reference like Wikipedia.

Do not think for a minute that just because a company like the ANA isn't charging subscription fees that they aren't able to make money. Look at Google. Free to all and they pull in mind boggling revenues.

I don't know what to the tell the U.S. Mint. Since they are a government entity, they have very little room to maneuver.


Joseph Ruscigno said...

is there any product that you would be better off buying from the mint?

Kendall Bailey said...

The U.S. Mint prices aren't as insane as I said. I made a mistake in my hurry to finish the post. If you are into modern coins, they are right in line pricewise.

Here is the correction I published about my boneheaded error.


Anonymous said...

And they also have to count inventory on hand. Well.that is a skewed integer..over production at the.mint.
As i mostly agree,i say its the grading companies equation here..im.mean Can.u.make a pekin duck at home? Or do u want to get it at a restaurant? How damn hard is it to go.and buy a slabbed coin? Not much.effort . my two cents

Anonymous said...

one reason mint sales are down is that the sets are to large and a lot more expensive.

Rick said...

Mint and proof sets or new commrmeratives. Markup is much higher on the secondary market

Anonymous said...

A lot of coins I've bought from the Mint are over-produced e.g. State Quarters making them worth less than what I paid. Not incentive to buy more... Seems unless it's silver or gold your U.S. Mint coins won't hold their value. Agree?

Anonymous said...

As an older collector, I see many facets and have experienced many facets of collecting. Today's collector, in my opinion, doesn't have a lot to look forward to. Overpriced USMint products? There's virtually no precious metal coins to be had any more, leaving little reason for anyone to collect. For those who're internet savvy, there's online auctions etc. but many are dishonest about the coins they have and many of those are overpriced. My collection will be left to my son, who is a collector in his own right. My sincerest hope is that my oldest coins find their way into the hands of those eight to ten generations past me. Since I have coins from the inception of the US and have an extensive 'type' collection along with complete, Liberty head dime, Walking liberty half, Washington quarter,Indian head nickel,Indian Head cent, Jefferson nickel, Lincoln cent, proof sets from 1952 forward including the SMS of 65-67, consecutive dated large cents from 1845-1857, all FE's and the major varieties, almost every commemorative half from 1892 forward, he'll get quite an addition to his own , not too shabby, collection.