With interest in coin and stamp collecting on the decline, many collectors have begun to worry that their beloved pursuits could be in danger of falling into the dustbin of history. Government agencies have begun trying to spark interest in these hobbies as well; the Royal Mail recently released an “Animail” design of highly-colored stamps shaped like animals, designed to appeal to children.
One blogger responded, “Personally I think new blood in the hobby will come from older people. Many young people don’t ‘collect’ anything these days, not even Panini cards, unless it is Apps on their smartphones or pads. No, the target audience should be anywhere from 25 upwards, but especially the over 50s, even if they don’t get as much opportunity as a few years ago for early retirement and hours of time to fill…Few young people will use them: even the use of email is being overtaken by things like WhatsApp and Skype.”
While the author is welcome to his opinion, this is an unnecessarily pessimistic view of the way technology influences collecting. Coin and stamp collecting have been around for centuries, and there is no reason to believe they will disappear or be relegated only to certain age groups because of emerging tech. Change, on the other hand, is inevitable.
Coins and stamps are intrinsically tied to technology. The artistry and technique present in a coin or stamp is a way to gauge the technology of the culture that produced it, and advances in technology inspire collectibles of greater complexity, detail, and uniformity.
But sometimes it can feel like historic fields such as numismatics and philately are out of place in a world of Tweets, drones, and self-driving cars. Some are even advocating digital currencies to replace bills and coins, while historians and others are insisting that all antique coins be removed from sale and returned to their country of origin. More interpersonal communication happens online rather than via written letters.
Devotees of cyber currencies, like BitCoin, claim that these new currencies will soon replace traditional funds. Some, like the proposed Hayek currency, are still backed by gold. According to the press release, the Hayek coin will “be valued at 1 gram of gold at the day’s market price, [and] will serve as a more secure store of value than Bitcoin.” CEO of Anthem Vault, the creator of the Hayek, Anthem Blanchard cites security concerns as a strong reason to support cyber currency. “Talking with friends of mine in the intelligence agencies, they say this is a real threat.” An attack could DDoS the current financial system, causing widespread chaos. Since cyber currencies do not rely on such central systems, they would theoretically be secure from this kind of attack, making them an attractive replacement for traditional cash, for some people.
Traditional stamps are also being challenged by websites like Stamps.com, which allow users to print legal, customized stamps for use on letters and other mailings. Many businesses simply use digitally printed postage instead of stamps, and personal mailings of all types have been on a steady decrease with the rise of the internet.
But new technology doesn’t have to mean an end to old traditions. It can not only enhance them, but actually preserve them, and enable current collectors to share their passion and knowledge with new collectors.
The sheer amount of information on the internet is staggering. Instead of spending hours paging through books, trying to find the relevant stamp or coin listing, collectors can ask questions on forums, use Google Image Search, or even reach out on Twitter or Facebook for information and help. On CoinLink.com, Doug Winter writes, “The best thing about the Internet for all hobbies has been the dissemination of information. 10 to 15 years ago, if you wanted information about rare coins you had to dig for it. You could open a Redbook and get mintage figures and you could find information about die varieties in various specialized books. But like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, in the past, information was strictly controlled. If you were lucky, you were invited into the secret circle and given some of the information you needed. If you didn’t know the secret handshake, you were pretty much on your own.”
Elsewhere on CoinWeek, Jeff Garrett writes, “Nearly every successful rare coin company is now a technology company. Most have at least one or more individuals on staff at all times to solve tech issues, post coins online, create digital images, and tackle other computer-related tasks. Many successful collectors have also become more tech savvy in recent years. Quite a few can perform detailed online research, including locating coins and establishing values. A few years ago, I taught a class at the ANA Summer Seminar on rare coin pricing. Much of the class involved how to properly use online tools available to collectors.”
The old stalwarts of numismatics and philately aren’t going anywhere, but they will evolve. Coin collecting has seen a move away from collecting by date, mintmark, and other traditional variables; the new trend is collecting by design or theme. Coin design enthusiasts show their collections and finds on Pinterest and Instagram, taking advantage of the visual nature of these mediums.
Collectors aren’t the only ones facing change: local brick-and-mortar stores will need to adjust to new technology as well. When smartphone cameras became high enough quality to take high-resolution photos of coins and stamps, collectors began sharing photos online for sale and identification, rather than going to their local store. In addition, collectors could purchase directly from the US Mint and Post Office without a middleman. Auction sites like eBay sealed the deal: now anyone could sell to anyone else, anywhere in the world.
Pat Heller, writing for NumismaticNews.com, has some pointed advice for local store owners: “Extend your market. If you do not already deal with customers outside your local market, consider developing a regional or national presence. This can be easier to do if you specialize in some market niche. Serve customers online, by phone, or by any means you can.”
Technology is changing and advancing every hobby, not just collectibles. The rise of “maker culture” and public maker spaces is providing access to new technology for more and more people to build and create everything from toys to costumes to prosthetic limbs. 3D printers are as affordable as inkjet printers were a few years ago, and will soon be just as ubiquitous.
It’s an exciting time to be a hobbyist; the world is opening up to so many new possibilities. Rather than fear change or dismiss tech-focused younger generations, this is a chance to revolutionize collecting, and invite newcomers. Technology is coming to the world of collectibles: it’s only a question of when and how. The “when” is now, but the how is up to us.