Coin collecting has been with humanity for as long as coins have been minted. The very first coin collector is said to have been Caesar Augustus. Other famous coin collectors have been Popes, Heads of State, famous athletes, kings, and queens. But many wonder if coin collecting is a dying hobby.
Coin collecting isn’t necessarily a dying hobby, but it has declined in popularity over time. In the right environment, coin collecting could become popular again and it still enjoys dedicated collectors across the globe. Various digital technologies have made collecting less popular in general.
There is no doubt that moving our commerce, currency and financial transactions online has impacted coin collecting. By virtue of reduced circulation of currency, coin collecting has been altered. Below, we’ll discuss the declining popularity of coin collecting in more detail.
Is Coin Collecting A Dying Hobby?
There is little doubt that coin collecting has changed in the last 50 years or so. Coin shows, for instance, are now online in addition to being in-person and a collector can get a coin appraised almost instantly without ever setting foot in a dealer’s shop. Those two realities alone are the changing face of coin collecting.
Our world has been changing rapidly since computers became so much a part of our lives. Virtually nothing we do now was done the same way 40 years ago. It was inevitable that this trend would affect hobbies like stamp and coin collecting and has prompted many to predict that coin collecting will become a relic of the past.
Because polling potential coin collectors is impossible, gauging interest must be measured via potential and actual collector behavior. The best way to do that is by looking at online activity coupled with in-person headcounts at coin shows.
Google searches on “coin collecting” topics have declined since at least 2004. Searches for “rare” and “valuable” coins however have stayed the same or only slightly decreased.
Coin shows, on the other hand, have shown a clear and quick decline. There are a few reasons for that:
- The internet has made coins accessible without being in person
- Natural selection of the more popular shows
- Location issues
- Covid-19 pandemic influences
The very fact there are fewer shows is an indicator that the industry is changing.
Why Is Coin Collecting Declining In Popularity?
For better or worse, coins just do not play the role they played in our lives as recently as 20 years ago. Coins are quickly becoming less relevant, although they likely will never become completely obsolete. That means potential coin collectors nowadays are not exposed to coins the way prior generations were.
Internet access has also changed the face of coin collecting – literally. That has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, coin collecting is easier in terms of appraising, buying and selling, but on the other hand, part of coin collecting and coin collecting PR is being actively involved with other collectors.
If a younger person today never sees a rare coin, their knowledge and interest will be limited at best. During the heyday of coin shows, it was common to see them advertised in newspapers. Rare coins were also advertised on television and in magazines. Today, if you want to see a rare coin dealer, you must seek them out, usually on the internet.
The internet has affected coin collecting, dealers and shows, but that is only part of the electronic picture.
Another electronic influence on coins and coin collecting is how online finance has reduced our dependency on physical currency. It used to be normal for people to walk around with multiple denominations of bills in their pockets. Now, those same people use cards to pay for most things and even that is gradually being replaced by smart devices that can process payments.
Physical currency is becoming less prevalent, and, in some scenarios, less accepted. For example, it is still unusual but not outrageous to see “card only” pay lanes in a store. Trying to book a hotel room or pay for a rental car is extremely difficult and, in some cases, impossible without a card. The same applies to several other industries.
Cash, including coins, is quickly becoming antiquated. That has led to less cash in circulation and therefore fewer coins in circulation. One of the side effects of that reality is that there is less interest in coins because fewer people come into contact with coins of any sort on a regular basis.
Coin Collecting Is Selective
Coin collecting is also a selective hobby. Coins interest many people, but only a few are so interested that they start collecting coins. Even fewer stick with it for a significant period of time.
Very few people discuss collecting coins with anyone but other numismatists. This is because, as a hobby, it is very specific with very specific parameters. Outside of coin collectors, about the only time coin collecting comes up is if someone has an interesting piece, such as a rare discovery or a coin has some other oddity attached to it.
For example, if someone comments on finding a particularly rare coin after a transaction at a convenience store, they might tell someone. If they know someone that collects coins or is interested in coins, they might mention their find to them.
Another scenario is when a rare find makes conventional news. For example, an English birdwatcher stumbled upon a cache of ancient Celtic coins in 2020, making international news. In that case, for a few days, coin aficionados and people who could not care less about coins made “Celtic coin cache” one of the most searched terms on Google.
Normally, however, discussions about coins occur only among people who collect coins or are interested in coins.
Coin Collecting Is Rare
Because collecting coins is a selective interest, relatively few people do it. Even back when coin collecting was more popular and prevalent, very few people actually collected them. There are many reasons for this, but the most significant is explained in an old saying about coin collecting: Coin collecting is the hobby of kings.
For most of human history, most people could afford only very few luxuries, if any. Coin collecting, for the most part, was an indulgence of the wealthy. A coin sitting in a display packet or booklet was capital that could be used to pay bills, buy food, etc.
Even as modern economies brought up the average living standards, coin collecting was still considered a luxury. Very few adults could afford it to any great extent. Even today, while many younger people are discovering coin collecting, it’s primarily an older person’s hobby. Part of the reason for that is still expense, but part of it is the relevance of coins falling off in recent years.
Coin Rarity And Expense
If you want to start a rock collection, all you must do is walk outside and start picking up rocks. An entire 2021 Baseball card collection can cost about $70 for 660 cards. But a single 1971 to 1976 Eisenhower Silver Dollar costs about $12, and they’re hard to come by.
To get a sense of how expensive coin collecting can be, do this exercise:
The approximate cost of the following 5 coins is $70:
- 2 1971-1976 Eisenhower silver dollars
- 1 1966 Kennedy half dollar
- 1 1944 Quarter
- 1 50-Count Roll of Wheat Pennies, Random Years: 1909-1958
If you are a child looking for a hobby, which would you rather have? 660 baseball cards or 5 interesting, but not particularly rare coins?
Coins, even those of modest value, cost money. If you want a sizable collection or a collection with valuable pieces, you must plan on spending a lot of money. The cost basically rules out children and those on low incomes from collecting coins. It even just rules out most people that would rather spend their cash on more ‘useful’ investments, but coin collecting can serve that purpose too.
Factors That Work In Coin Collecting’s Favor
Collecting Coins As An Investment
Whereas prior generations of coin collectors viewed coins as a historical marker of sorts, many collectors today appreciate the history, but value the coins more as investments. These collectors look at coins as a way to make money or store value versus something to be shown and appreciated.
That is good news if you are on the market for a rare coin and have money to spend. If you value a coin more for its market price, it is much easier to part with it than if you value it for its heritage, history or rarity. In a way, this new way of looking at coins probably means rarer coins that were not for sale in the past might appear in the future.
Collecting for pure financial gain may lead to the person gaining an interest in the coin. In that way, collecting coins might then become that person’s hobby. As collectors learn more about the coins they own, there is a real possibility that they will grow to appreciate them and want to hold onto them. This is analogous to investors gaining interest in the companies in their portfolios.
The value approach does change the market, though. Someone buying a gold coin for the gold content is less likely to want to collect a less valuable metal. That means coins made of gold and silver might increase in value, while coins made of nickel and copper might decrease, despite their individual rarity or historical value.
History Is On Coin Collecting’s Side
Another factor working in favor of coin collecting sticking around is the fact that human beings really do not change much from one century to another. As mentioned, coin collecting has been fascinating people since Roman times, and one find of an ancient cache of coins can captivate the world.
There are two reasons for this:
- Rarity of precious metals
- Historical perspective
Precious metals have always fascinated humans, probably before they even realized what a precious metal was. If you think about all the civilizations across the globe that used gold and silver for ornamental jewelry, religious articles, clothing, buildings and more, you realize that we have always been obsessed with them.
The historical perspective is very important as well. We know now, for instance, that currency in coins was “a thing” back during the days of the Celts. Roman Emperors collected coins. Some coins from Asia, Africa and the Middle East have confirmed the existence of civilizations and individuals. Others have confirmed a sophistication we previously knew very little about.
The ‘How’ Has Changed
It used to be fairly easy to keep tabs on coin collectors. All you had to do was attend a coin show and you could see collectors from all walks of life. Moving to electronic forms of communications and commerce changed all that.
Now, coin shows are mostly online. As imagery has improved, it is possible to examine the minutest details of a coin and see dents, flaws, and scratches in photos and not just in person. It is even possible to perform verification testing online.
Additionally, it used to be that, to sell a coin, you had to either buy a spot in a coin show or coordinate with a dealer to sell your merchandise. With reputable dealers, it was not a problem, although it still cost money. If a dealer was dishonest, however, you could end up with “lost” merchandise, or get cheated by fees or even price fixing.
The internet has changed all of that. Sure, there are still disreputable operators in the coin industry, just like there are in every industry. You are not dependent, however, on a third party seller to buy or sell coins. With online markets, of which there are several, coins are easily presented and sold.
Dealers Are Less Important
There will always be a market for coin dealers, even if their predominate medium shifts from physical coin shops or booths at a coin show to the internet. With that said, the role of the dealer is diminished because coin collectors can now do much of the legwork that used to be the specialty of a dealer themselves.
For instance, researching a coin to determine its value used to be a laborious task. It included face-to-face meetings with customers. Then the dealer looked up hardcopy facts in books, talked to other dealers, and spent a lot of time on the phone collecting facts about the coin or coins in question.
Now, most of that can be done online and much of it can be done by the coin buyer, seller or collector themselves. This is particularly true with coins of known value, where determining a price for a coin is as easy as comparing prices across multiple coin sellers.
The role of a dealer in this scenario is more of a facilitator or processor than it is a consultant or advisor. That, in many ways, is good news for collectors because it removes a middleman and it can speed up the process.
Coin Stores Are Like Most Retail Outlets
The changing face of coin collecting has diminished the traditional brick-and-mortar coin store. It has not, however, completely eradicated it. This is because of the same reason brick-and-mortar stores have remained open and successful even in the face of online shopping, ordering and delivering: people like to see and touch what they’re buying.
Someone dropping several hundred dollars on a coin wants to get a feel for that coin first. They want to feel its weight, examine its wear and tear, and hold it in their hands. That is not possible with online shopping and transactions. Only via a brick-and-mortar store or coin show can a buyer handle what they are buying. That’s why coin stores and shows will likely never completely disappear.
Is Recovery Possible?
The answer to the question of whether or not full recovery in the hobby’s popularity is possible depends on whether you think coin collecting is actually in drastic decline, or whether it is just changing.
It is true that there are fewer coin shows and known coin collectors, but it is also true that the internet hides many who are interested in coins and that collecting for their precious metal value is a legitimate reason for collecting coins.
Coins That Are Always Collectible
In addition to coins that are popular for their precious metal content, some coins, for various reasons, are always going to be in demand. These include, but are not limited to:
- Coins associated with historical events (commemorative coins)
- Coins with flaws
- Coins that are aesthetically appealing
- Coins that are rare
- Coins that are unique
Each of those will always be collectible and therefore in demand. The only question is whether the buyer of any of those types of coins will be a hardcore coin collector or just buying those coins for their uniqueness as coins. There is no doubt that collecting is changing in shape and form, but there will always be people collecting coins for various reasons.
The fact that those types of coins exist offsets the downside of governments relying more on electronic finance and less and less on fiat currency. A government could produce fewer coins each successive year, but there are still billions in general circulation worldwide.
The Long-Term Outlook For Coin Collections
On The Plus Side
It is true though that, as governments print fewer coins, there will be less “new blood” in the coin market. That means existing coins will become more expensive. That bodes well for their collectability as an investment, which is one of the newer evolutions of coin collecting in the electronic age.
There are also individuals who just find coins fascinating. Those folks likely collected coins as kids and remained enamored with them through adulthood. Internationally, that total of individuals is unknown, but it stands to reason that it is resistant to trends in coin collecting overall.
There is also the fact that new discoveries, like that cache of Celtic coins, spur interest in coin collectors, potential coin collectors, and the public. Another amazing find, accomplished by two amateurish metal detectorists in 2019, was a cache of Roman coins that were in remarkable condition.
That find made the news when it was found. It also made news when it was appraised. The British Museum appraised the cache to be worth more than $6 million. The appraised value plus the coins being put on exhibit at the British Museum made international news. Events like that will always spur interest in coin collecting.
Coin collecting is a declining, but not necessarily dying, hobby. There is no doubt that traditional indicators of interest in coin collecting indicate a downward cycle. The phasing out of cash for purchases is a main driver, as fewer people use coins on a regular basis.