Numismatics is Broken
Author: Kendall Bailey - Monday September 25, 2017
At least once per week I see an article, blog post, or someone talking about how we need to get children involved in numismatics. Oddly, at the same time, I also see precious few ideas being offered. It seems no one can wrap their head around how to get a younger crowd to care about numismatics. It's kind of funny to be on the outside looking in at this situation. Everyone is saying how it has to happen, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of words have been written on the subject. Yet, how many ideas have been propsed or explored? A handful. And, of those, none of them were good enough to stick in my mind.|
I've thought about the problem, too. Don't think that I'm sitting here laughing at a group that I'm not a part of. It occurred to me that we are probably approaching the problem from the wrong angle. We are trying to get younger people involved in numismatics as we know it. The problem is that numismatics as we know it is both esoteric and terribly behind the times. The younger crowd, aside from a small percentage (not sure if I'm included at 34 years old), think of coin collecting as an old-people's hobby. What needs to change isn't just the minds of the younger crowd, but the hobby itself.
"Modern" numismatics is in many ways a vile succubus. The hobby can literally suck the life (and money) right out of you. I'm not sure how many people are familiar with thecoinblog.net, the blog I started last year and sold earlier this year, but my time regularly writing for it made me absolutely miserable. So many things are wrong with numismatics, it's easy to become cynical and quickly burn out. At least, that has been my experience.
I better not make too many negative claims without offering examples; so here are some of the things that are wrong with coin collecting today.
- Third party graders are more concerned with profits than standards. Why are there so many "collectible" labels in holders? Why have grading standards slipped just enough to make resubmissions of previously graded coins enticing? Why do MS-70 coins' values jump so far above those graded MS-69? Because all of these things equal more submissions for the graders and more submissions equals more money.
- Enormous coin companies use clever language to inflate the sense of a coin's rarity and then charge a hefty price for what is, often, simply pocket change. I'm embarrassed to have lived near one for a good part of my life and even wrote a blog post for them when I was first starting out. (I grew up in Northeastern Vermont. Check a map.) These companies discourage would-be collectors who find out the 2017 cent they paid $2.99 for is really just a penny. Or the 1937 Buffalo Nickel they paid $8.95 for is worth about $0.50. How is this not a crime?
- Many coin dealers are jerks. If potential customers don't show up with their fists full of cash, these dealers have no time for them. But you want your know the dirty little secret? Newcomers, the smart ones anyway, don't put down a lot of money right away. They want to get some coins they can't find in circulation but are easy to research; essentially, old common coins. That's a good starting place for a beginner and the coin dealers who aren't greedy little piggies know where to guide them.
Three items makes a list, right? I'm going to press on.
So, how do we change numismatics to attract a younger crowd?
1. Stop trying to attract a younger crowd. The obsession with finding younger collectors comes off super creepy.
2. Make numismatic education free. A massive online resource of downloadable numismatic books, or even pamphlets, would be nice. You can find these things if you scour the internet, but there is no single, comprehensive knowledge resource for numismatics that is also free.
3. Create an app so newbies can identify coins they don't recognize immediately. (This is actually in its infant stage. Check out Tim Rathjen's Lookzee app. Last I knew it was in beta testing and I'm not sure of its current status.)
4. Publicly call bullshit on 3rd party grading companies changing their standards. Also, publicly call bullshit on the large dealers who severely overcharge for common coins. Thirdly, publicly call bullshit on partnerships between TV networks selling coins and 3rd party graders (because there's no way that could be a conflict of interest). All of this calling out of unethical behavior would go a long way to build trust with new collectors. Oh! And if you plan to call any of these vermin out, you had best lawyer up ahead of time. They are sue-happy.
5. Stop making a coin dealer's monetary worth a factor in joining the PNG. It seems like a rich kid club at best and a shadow government at worst.
I'm going to halt here. This is a blog post after all, not a book I've promised to write but have yet to begin serious work on.
(Broken coin image from http://coinauctionshelp.com )