It’s News To Me: The Last Jedi vs. The Last Collector

Obverse of 1945-D Walking Liberty half dollar. (Photo courtesy Brandon Grossardt, via Wikipedia.)

By Donn Pearlman

Donn Pearlman

How can the hobby attract new collectors as well as revive strong numismatic desire in the hearts and minds of millions of former collectors? The aging demographic of our hobby has been the topic of many conversations among collectors and dealers in recent years. Yet, even American Numismatic Association (ANA) members are apparently younger overall than our stamp-collecting brothers and sisters in the American Philatelic Society (APS). The APS monthly magazine publishes the ages of many new members, and those numbers seem to skew from 65 to circling the drain.

There are fewer youngsters going through their parents’ pocket change to find needed coins to fill albums today. One reason is that there are fewer scarce coins in circulation than when many of today’s mature collectors began sorting through Wheat cents or could still find Buffalo nickels in circulation.

Children today spend hours of unsupervised time online or with digital games and videos. There certainly are more online numismatic resources now than just a few years ago, and that’s good, but perhaps it’s not enough to significantly build interest in the hobby. 

The key to attracting a new audience and attracting the attention of former collectors is to move coin collecting into the realm of pop culture to appeal to a younger audience. To attract and retain wealthy, potential collectors, we need positive news coverage in influential major news media. We also need what the marketing folks call “influencers”: respected writers, bloggers, and tweeters. 

Imagine if Katy Perry (108 million Twitter followers) and Donald Trump (45 million Twitter followers) posted each month about how much they enjoy coin collecting? How about if people with the stature of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett told The New York Times or Wall Street Journal how much fun they have and money they make with rare coins?

So what’s popular in pop culture? Well, there are zombies and TV personalities whose only talent seems to be the fact they’re wealthy and on TV. Also, anything to do with Star Wars or Harry Potter will attract attention and a following. 

The Walking Liberty Dead?
Obverse of 1945-D Walking Liberty half dollar.
(Photo courtesy Brandon Grossardt, via Wikipedia.)

Perhaps The Walking Dead should become The Walking Liberty Dead. Will there be reality television shows with titles such as Keeping Up with the Koindashians? Can we convince author J.K. Rowling to create a compelling book with the title Harry Potter and the Elusive 1909-S V.D.B. Lincoln Cent, or something similar? Maybe we should simply plaster Facebook and YouTube with videos of cute kittens playing with coins.

Next, there must be wall-to-wall marketing, and that costs floor-to-ceiling money. Do you recall, over the past year, seeing story after story, video tease after video tease for months in advance of the release of the film Star Wars: The Last Jedi? According to IndieWire, an online resource for information about movies and TV programs, “Every wide release (movie), whether the production budget is $5 million or $250 million, requires an expensive marketing and distribution outlay … for domestic $25 million or more … .” By comparison, the entire 2018 ANA budget for conventions, educational programs, and other activities is $5.6 million. That’s enough to purchase one 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl, but not enough to launch an all-out, sustained marketing campaign to bolster the hobby.

The United States Mint did reach out to hobbyists, and mainstream America, with attractive Christmas-time advertisements promoting proof American Eagle silver bullion coins. That was an excellent start to raising awareness and promoting sales of a high-quality numismatic product, but what can the numismatic community do the rest of the year to promote our great hobby? Suggestions are welcomed and encouraged.

Donn Pearlman is a former award-winning Chicago journalist and broadcaster who has written hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles promoting the coin hobby and profession. He currently serves as Acting Executive Director of the Numismatic Literary Guild.

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