I really do enjoy this hobby. I enjoy the history, the vignettes, the collectors, the dealers, and the challenge. I enjoy research, conversations, questions, teaching, and writing. I enjoy my database and web site construction. I enjoy tracking prices and I greatly enjoy watching global trends play out among individual collectors.
That is not to say I am fully satisfied. I'd like to have the money to collect the certificates I catalog. I'd like to speak and write German so I could correspond with more collectors. I'd like to have the time to catalog several other specialties. Still I get tremendous pleasure from this hobby and I get hundreds of vicarious thrills every time my long-time correspondents acquire new certificates.
Unfortunately, I also worry about the state of the hobby. I worry where it will be in ten years. Will there be a sufficient number of active collectors?
Q. David Bowers, one of the most learned elder statesman of numismatics, posed a similar question in the April, 2010 issue of The Numismatist. He pointed out that the American Numismatic Association has a current membership of 32,000, essentially the same membership it had in 1980. He asked, "Thirty years hence, in 2040, will we still have 32,000, or will we be a tiny group of 3,000?"
Mr. Bowers is actually optimistic about long-term prospects for the coin hobby and I agree. The ANA is doing everything humanly possible to promote and expand that hobby. The ANA has a large membership base and the hobby has a huge number of non-member participants, numerous publications, many auctions and a large group of active dealers. Hobbies like ours don't.
Addressing the issue of smaller collecting hobbies, Bowers quoted Dr. Arthur Groten, president of the Ephemera Society of America. "The demographics of groups like ours show a steadily aging membership. If we want to continue our mission to promote and preserve ephemera, it's imperative that we reach out to younger collectors."
I agree wholeheartedly with both the observations and desires of Bowers and Groten. I want our hobby to prosper. I want future collectors to experience the thrill of finding great rarities. I want them to have the opportunity to develop a deep understanding of the depth, breadth, ebb and flow of financial history. Speaking of finances, I want today's collectors to have future buyers.
One of my personal thrills is having contributors, both new and old, discover new sub-varieties that no one has ever spotted before. Because of my web presence, collectors all over the world can find me fairly easily. It gives them a way to communicate their discoveries to the hobby and I am most honored when they contact me.
Unlike many collecting hobbies, ours is perfectly suited to allow all participants to contribute, even the rawest of beginners. I argue that today's easy global communications make this the perfect time and the perfect hobby for everyone to become involved. In my opinion, every collector now has the opportunity to contribute.
Increased involvement, of course, increases the responsibility of those of us already in the hobby. We all must go to greater lengths to promote two-way communications. The old model of one-way communications between dealers and collectors, and between authors and collectors has become a liability. As uncomfortable as it may seem, all of us need to step up and promote better and more enjoyable communications. Simply put, the easier we make communications, the more likely our hobby will survive and possibly thrive.
Survival will also depend on much greater access to information about certificates then we currently have. If communication is the backbone of our hobby, then the free-flow of information is the lifeblood. Currently, European collectors are greatly more fortunate than Americans. Based on conversations with dealers Mario Boone and Matthias Schmitt, there are thirty to forty catalogs and guidebooks available for European and Russian certificates, depending on how you define such references. I only know of eight English-language works that cover North American certificates, and that includes George LaBarre's pioneering guidebooks from the early 1980s.
By comparison, the coin and stamp hobbies easily have 100 to 200 times the number of information references! If our hobby ever hopes to attract new participants, it will need dramatically more information!
At the same time our hobby begs for more references, it needs renewed excitement. By that, I mean we first need to renew our own excitement. If those of use already in the hobby cannot get excited again, how can we ever hope to attract new collectors? I don't believe boredom will attract all that many new collectors.
Yes, excitement means different things to different hobbyists. Bowers wrote in The Numismatist that, "The 'eureka moment' I might have had as a kid when I found a scarce cent probably would be eclipsed in 2010 by a hard-won victory in a computer game." Simply put, we will have a very tough challenge competing for the attention of new collectors. Nonetheless, every day we delay means fewer participants ten years from now.
I'll be 60 years old in a couple months, but I can still remember many of my discoveries as a young coin collector. That excitement would seem naive today, except that I believe everyone still hopes to find that kind of adrenaline in our hobby. We can certainly find adrenaline in well-attended live auctions and I wish there were many more. But adrenaline aside, I think we can all remember the excitement we felt when we first discovered this hobby. Let's revive that excitement with more camaraderie, more publications, more catalogs, more web sites, and more sharing of stories. I beg everyone, let's try to have more fun and let new collectors know that's one of our primary directives.