Tell Stories About Money

June 25, 2020


By Patrick A. Heller

Numismatic collectors and dealers both have an incentive to attract more people to the hobby/industry. The greater number of collectors that exist, the higher the demand (and almost certainly prices) for coins and paper money they sell.

Collecting coins, paper money, and exonumia is satisfying outside of any financial considerations. Numismatists have the opportunity to imagine the people who, at one time, might have held the very pieces in their collection. They can also appreciate the artistry, cultural significance, and every other aspect of the history of design, production, and circulation of their treasures.

One of the more common ways of fostering a new collector is through one-on-one mentorship, often among members of the same family.

The other means of promoting numismatics is through publicity to the general public.  There are several opportunities to do so beyond what most collectors might realize. Just this week, the company where I work participated in two ways to tell stories about money.

First, the local NBC television station assigned one of its reporters to cover the developing shortage of US circulating coinage. It happens that the assignment editor at the station is the son of a coin dealer. As a result, he has more than a casual interest in stories involving money. He was tipped off to the coin shortage late last week when I posted information about this issue on my company’s Facebook page. When I met with the reporter Monday this week, I explained how the shortage could occur, including a discussion of how the West Point Mint had twice closed down and disrupted the production of the Mint’s bullion products. You never know if someone seeing a news story about a coin shortage just might be encouraged to become a new collector. By the way, you can view the final report (that, as usual, only includes a small part of her interview with me) here.

A local film company’s current project is a documentary about the May 18, 1927 Bath, Mich., school bombing in which six adults and 38 school students died plus another 58 people were injured. The producer came in with a camera crew this week to film US paper money that would have been in circulation then.

Rather than simply using the 1923 $1.00 Silver Certificate or Blue Seal Federal Reserve notes that look much like recent US currency issues, I enticed them to film more interesting paper money. In all, they took pictures of four notes—a Series 1899 $1.00 Silver Certificate (nicknamed the Black Eagle), a Series 1899 $5.00 Silver Certificate (nicknamed the Indian Chief), a Series 1901 $10.00 Legal Tender Note (nicknamed the Bison), and a Series 1922 $10.00 Gold Certificate. Imagine the possibility that someone in the future may see the finished documentary and become captivated with the appeal of older US paper money to such a degree that they become a numismatist.

There are other ways that numismatists can increase the use of coins in public venues that could spark interest in some new collectors. For example:

  • The company where I work donated older coins used in displays at the Michigan Historical Museum, where our connection began years ago when we performed a no-charge appraisal of the 1873 US Gold Proof Set for the museum and then later provided instructors for their programs for beginning coin collectors.
  • Two of our staff are certified coin collecting merit badge counselors for the Scouts. When adult Scout leaders know of available counselors for merit badges, they are more inclined to suggest such a badge to aspiring Scouts. Although the nuts and bolts of earning the merit badge provide a bare-bones opportunity to enjoy numismatics, as a counselor you can enhance the attraction of becoming a long-term collector.
  • When both the Statehood quarters and America The Beautiful quarter series began and also when they released the Michigan issues in 2004 and 2018, the company where I work sponsored food-raisers for the local food bank. People bringing food or cash donations to our store were given free quarters.
  • The company where I work promoted public submissions of design ideas for the 2004 Michigan Statehood quarter. A number of school teachers were especially interested, making it a class assignment for their students to contribute their ideas. In all, the Michigan Quarter Commission (of which I served as a member) received a total of 4,000 design ideas from the public, including 800 from students.
  • When public design ideas were not solicited by the Mint for the forthcoming 2018 Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore America the Beautiful quarter, the company where I work used the 18 candidate designs submitted to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committeeand Commission of Fine Arts to conduct a poll of the favorite design from the public and from schoolchildren. A total of 18 schools participated, where the overwhelmingly most popular design at each school was the same one. The results of these polls were provided to Michigan’s governor and to the US Mint, but the eventual coin design was one that was not popular in the surveys.
  • For several years, staff from the company where I work have taught a class on coin collecting to the statewide 4-H Exploration Camp attendees.
  • Also, for several years, I have made presentations to high school world history classes titled “The Rise And Fall Of Rome’s Money—And What It Means For America Today!” Every time I do, the most popular part of the presentation is when I pass around ancient Roman coins that students have the opportunity to hold in their own hands. The overall theme is that the initial popularity and eventual deterioration of Rome’s coinage paralleled the political rise and fall of Rome and that there are a number of parallels to America’s monetary and political history.

You can probably come up with other ideas on how to spark public interest in coins and paper money. The best thing about activities promoting greater public attention to our coins and currency is that any numismatist can do some of these, not just dealers. Many such activities only require an investment of some time. The payoffs come from sharing your passion with others that may incidentally have a financial benefit down the road as more people become collectors.

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