Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Graying Hobbies: Has Collecting Lost its Youth?

I remember the days when you could open a phone book (yup...that long ago) and find several coin and stamp shops scattered across the yellow pages, and antique shops were big business. I would save Cracker Jack toys, McDonald's Happy Meal trinkets, and 12c comic books, not for investment, but just because I wanted to collect a set of something....anything that was small and cool.

Today, the average age of a stamp collector (the serious ones) is over 60, and the bourse floors at big coin shows are filled with middle-aged men. And those old comics and toys are being sold at auction or on eBay to successful 30-somethings with a surplus of discretionary income.

What has happened to the young collector? They may have a few Statehood quarters and maybe a $2 bill from Uncle Matt, but they're mostly out of the collecting loop.

Well, here's what I think.

Fathers have become lost on the pursuit of money for that HD TV or new Beemer to spend time together with their boys armed with a magnifying glass and some intriguing miniature piece of history -- a coin or a stamp or something that can peak interest in a youthful mind. And children are lost in the latest computer based game, AIM chat or a new mp3 to stop for a moment and, well, think. Think about what's come before them; about artistry, history, and the use of their magnificent imaginations. We have grown too dependent on the imagination of others, neatly boxed in a video game, a DVD, or a coffee table book.

Many retiring collectors are painfully discovering that the love and fascination they held for the collections they slowly acquired are not shared by the children they plan to leave them to. Those children never learned to appreciate the art and history behind those carefully preserved items. The kids only see these dusty old things as a means to buy something they an HD TV or that new Beemer, once they're sold and the memories have gone.

It may be too late to inspire our older children - their minds are busy, and mostly closed. It's their children, with minds open and thirsty that can gain so much from the graying collector.



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