Earlier this week I read an article by Patrick Heller how the aging collector population would affect the supply and demand for numismatic items. One point Heller makes is that as collectors pass on and leave significant collections to heirs, he finds “that most heirs do not share the same passion for the holdings as the coin collector who died.”

Heller further notes, “In more than a few instances, those selling the collections have much less numismatic knowledge than the collector who died to be able to liquidate the treasures for the best price.”

Although it was not the premiss of Heller’s article, what really has to be addressed is how to increase the number of collectors and provide help to non-collectors who find themselves in the position to have to deal with a collection left behind by a deceased loved one. Of course there are two books that will explain what those selling collections as part of an estate, but sometimes they need more help.

For those interested in collecting, there needs to be an outlet to find information and be able to participate in the community. Information has to be engaging and the collector should be encouraged to collect what they like and like what they collect.

There are so many ways to collect numismatic items that it will be difficult to list them in one place. One way to start is to try to engage the collector where they are. Today, that means finding them on the Internet.

The future of every hobby, business, and nearly every aspect of life will be online.

Some might suggest that you cannot do everything online. While that may be true, the online world helps open the doors to the off line experience.

I am not suggesting that numismatics should look at the Internet as one large online supermarket or auction house. The Internet can be the gateway to knowledge. It can explain to the family that inherited grandpa’s collection how to handle it without getting ripped off. It can explain that transportation tokens may be the ultimate local collectibles and finding them can be even more challenging than finding coins. It can explain what are the positives and negatives to collecting modern non-circulating legal tender coins. It can open the door to collecting foreign coins and currency from the country your parents or grandparents came from.

The Internet can also explain that your State Quarter collection may not be as valuable as you though, including those purchased on that alleged “special sale” on television. However, that extra tree on the Minnesota quarter may be worth just a bit more than 25-cents!

“Buy the Book before the coin” is a popular mantra repeated in the hobby. But which book? If you look at the catalogs of coin books from all publishers, there are so many books how do you know which one to buy. Some people even recommend reading auction catalogs. While many auction catalogs are really sales pitches, catalogs for special sales have some wonderful information, great images, and even pointer to other references.

There needs to be a central repository for numismatic information from a trusted source that is not trying to sell you on their version of numismatics.

This is where the American Numismatic Association comes in the picture.

Over the last year, the ANA has been working to enter the 21st century to offer more services online. Even though it may appear that the ANA is barely out of the 20th century in technology, employees at the ANA headquarters have done yeomen work with what they have. But the work is only beginning.

Building online services is not easy when your product is not easily defined. Those of us in the information industry call it the “Big Data” problem because data is the driver, there is a lot of it, and managing it is not as easy as it seems. Data can be ordered in more ways than an inventory of coins or a catalog of auctions.

When looking at the problem, data tends to grow and that growth has to be managed whereas a dealer’s inventory can be in flux and auction data is static and controllable.

These problems not only makes what the ANA is trying to do to be that information leader very difficult, but doing it in a compelling manner that makes that could help attract new collectors makes the job even tougher.

Next week at the World’s Fair of Money, the ANA Board of Governors will hear about the selection of a new contractor to help take the next steps in conquering big numismatic data. They will also hear from impassioned members of the Technology Committee who only wants this contractor to succeed and do so in a way to allow the ANA to provide premier online services—a model for other non-profit hobby organizations.

Creating these online services will not happen overnight. In fact, it may take a year or longer to see significant advancements. That is the nature of building these services essentially from scratch. But it is worth the wait.

In the end, there will be resources for members and the public that will promote the hobby in a way that only the ANA can do. Hopefully, it will convince those who let their membership expire to return to the ANA, strengthen the bond between ANA members and clubs, and lure collectors who are interested to join us.

As an ANA member and a member of the Technology Committee, I hope you will support the ANA’s efforts because if the demographics cannot be skewed a little younger, we may be looking at a bleaker future for the hobby.

About the pictures… when I talk about technology I tend to think about the time I started and the Control Data Corp. Cyber 18/30 that was significant in my college days. We used to call her “LC” for Little Cyber. It helps remind me of where computing has come, especially that my iPhone is millions of times more powerful than LC!

Of course if I’m taking a walk down memory lane, I have to include the Poly 88, the first computer I ever programmed!

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