NUMISMATIC PROFESSIONALS HAVE ONE THING IN COMMON: THEY STARTED YOUNG AND NOW HAVE IMPRESSIVE CAREERS
By Pamela Y. Wiggins
ASK A DOZEN
ASK A DOZENsuccessful coin experts when they first began collecting and you can bet the majority started young. No, they didn’t imagine their childhood love would actually amount to a career one day, but decades and thousands of coins later, they’re still immersed in the world of numismatics.
American Numismatic Association’s Young Numismatists Program
For a nominal annual fee of $14 to $26 (depending on membership level), children and teens can participate in a range of activities sponsored by the American Numismatic Association. This includes a regular newsletter, educational resources, and earning ancient coins and “YN Dollars” that can be spent at monthly online auctions.
Miles Standish, a co-founder of Collectors Universe and former vice president of Professional Coin Grading Service, and now a vice president at Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), is a prime example. He started collecting when he was 9 years old and really got a boost when his father began encouraging his love for coins. “My dad really supported my interest and shared my enthusiasm,” he says. “We learned together.”
Standish began to master the ins and outs of coin grading as a teenager. One of his specialties was silver dollars. He sold his first one for a profit when he was 13. He traveled to trade shows, learned all he could, and by the age of 19 he had a job at the American Numismatic Association (ANA). He went on to become one of the first full-time coin graders hired by PCGS. He still loves those silver dollars, too. As the author of American Silver Eagles: A Guide to the U.S. Bullion Coin Program and Morgan Dollar: America’s Love Affair with a Legendary Coin (both Whitman Publishing), he shares this affinity with others.
“I developed an eye for it as I learned how to properly examine and handle coins at a young age,” says Standish, proving you can never start too early when nurturing collectors, and you just never know where a hobby will lead.
Cristiano Bierrenbach, executive vice president of international numismatics for Heritage Auctions, also started amassing a coin collection as a boy. His grandmother bought him a catalog to help identify old coins that were passed down from his great-grandfather, and his passion for the hobby grew exponentially over the following decade.
“My dad really supported my interest and shared my enthusiasm. We learned together.”
By the time he was in his 20s, Bierrenbach’s passion for coins led to a rewarding profession. After obtaining a degree in management, he founded Bier Numismatica, which grew into one of the largest collectible coin purveyors in Latin America. At the age of 30, he became the youngest-ever technical director for the Brazilian Numismatic Society, and he founded the Latin American Numismatic Convention, setting a great example for young collectors.
When offering advice on getting kids interested in coins today, Bierrenbach suggests introducing them to the hobby through means accessible to everyone. Some ideas include completing a set of 50 state quarters, or filling coin folders with Lincoln cents. If a neophyte collector starts showing significant interest, Bierrenbach adds, “Engage them in the hobby by encouraging them to join local clubs, attend seminars, visit coin shows and auctions together, or doing a coin exhibition.”
Standish recommends that enthusiastic young collectors get as much hands-on experience as early as possible. Visiting coin shows and shops is a great way to handle coins that have already been graded, since learning about the basics in that area will always be important to collectors. Coin auction previews, like those held by Heritage Auctions, offer another way to examine a variety of examples without spending – or buying – even a dime unless you want to partake in the excitement of bidding.
“The more coins you get to look at and examine,” Standish says, “the more opportunities you have to learn.” In-person visits allow children to pose questions to experienced dealers and collectors as well. Adults in the business realize the importance of encouraging budding enthusiasts, and many are forthcoming and helpful as mentors when it comes to nurturing interest. Some will even continue building relationships through email with older kids and teens, so it never hurts to ask the friendly folks you meet for a business card.
“Engage [young collectors] by encouraging them to join local clubs, attend seminars [and] visit coin shows and auctions together.”
When kids get back home, Standish says they should read everything they can find about their favorite types of coins, studying prices realized through Heritage’s website (HA.com) and utilizing both online and app-based resources for smartphones to learn more about grading and values. PCGS even offers a phone-based app (PCGS Photograde) to help with grading that allows you to place your examples right next to high-resolution photos of U.S. coins of all ages and denominations.
Bierrenbach suggests buying your child a copy of the “Red Book,” also known as A Guide Book of United States Coins by R.S. Yeoman (Whitman Publishing). And for kids expressing interest in world varieties, his recommended guide is the 2015 Standard Catalog of World Coins by George S. Cuhaj and Thomas Michael (Krause Publications). “They’re the most popular, and a good place to start,” Bierrenbach shares.
Another fantastic resource Bierrenbach and Standish recommend is the Young Numismatists program sponsored by ANA. A visit to Money.org offers information on many worthwhile programs that are educational and fun for a small yearly fee. Young Numismatists resources include the Ancient Coin Project, offering a chance to earn coins, scouting resources for earning merit badges, scholarships and summer seminars for teens.
Of course, just as with other collecting genres, you can’t force an interest in coins. What you can do is present the idea and provide a few basic resources for getting started. If the child under your wing really seems enthused once they get rolling, help them take the hobby a step forward and see where the journey leads. Imagine how exciting it would be to nurture an up-and-coming expert who could soon be teaching you a thing or two about coins.
PAMELA Y. WIGGINS serves as the expert guide for antiques at About.com. Visit her at Antiques.About.com.