Trial of the Pyx
Volume 57, Number 4, April 2020
Those were the days THIS month we learn that the Bexley Coin Club, the last numismatic society in Kent, is to close its doors after over half a century. Falling membership has, inevitably, led to its demise; it wasn’t the first victim of those circumstances and unfortunately we doubt it will be the last. Whether we like it or not collecting (whether that’s coins, medals, notes, stamps, postcards, cigarette cards or whatever) just isn’t as embraced as readily as it was a few decades ago. For whatever reason, the youth of today (and when I say youth I mean anybody under the age of 25) just don’t collect as we did when we were young and whilst there’s been a bit of a surge in new issue collecting recently with the advent of the Beatrix Potter 50ps, that hasn’t brought us back to the heady days of the 1960s, not by a long shot. Back then everybody collected something, the main ones were always coins, stamps, and some sort of card (post or trade card) but even if they weren’t your thing you would be collecting something: marbles, birds eggs (yes, I know why that died a death, and good job too), butterflies (ditto), fossils or comics. Everybody had a collection somewhere. As the 1960s became the ’70s so PG tips and bubble-gum cards replaced cigarette cards and coins dropped off a bit as the uniformity of decimalisation kicked in and then suffered badly as the silver boom busted. The stamp market took a hit in the early ’80s but beanie babies and phone cards took up the slack. People were still collecting. Then along came computers and the whole hobby world changed utterly. Now, instead of accumulating things in the real world, youngsters immersed themselves in fantasy realms and collected virtual gold, experience points and scores. Suddenly school yards weren’t full of people talking about their latest acquisition and exchanging their “swapsies”, but rather all the talk was of their highest score on Donkey Kong and they were only interested in exchanging games cartridges with one another. The games consoles made that ten times worse and the advent of the internet exacerbated it further, now there wasn’t even any need to tell your friends what your score was—they’d all seen you accumulate it the evening before, usually over the dead bodies of their avatars. Hobbies were now all virtual, hours upon hours were being spent, not poring over an album or magnifying glass, but rather with controller in hand and console humming as battles raged, secret missions undertaken and worlds, saved all from the comfort of home. The cry in the land of the hobbyist went out—the old real world with its static collecting was dead, long live the new fast paced virtual world, a world where you could be anyone and do anything. How much more fun was that than boring old collecting? Of course, not all of us got the memo. Now, of course, many of those who grew up on gaming as their main pastime have got to a point in their lives where it isn’t necessarily seemly to spend all your free time online masquerading as Moron the Magnificent, slayer of whatever happens to be the monster du jour, and they realise that those of us who stuck with the “old world hobbies” actually have something that we can still enjoy today as much as we did when we first started and, quite interestingly, we at COIN NEWS are now seeing people in their 40s coming in to the hobby for the very first time, but again not in enough numbers. The problem that coin collecting . . . that most collecting hobbies . . . has, is that the virtual generation never caught the collecting bug as we once did and I’m not sure how we are going to fix that. The Royal Mint has had a go at stimulating the market with its recent coin programmes, but it’s not enough. It’s all very well to get people collecting every Beatrix Potter 50p but when they have them all, what then? What can we as a hobby do to encourage them to move on from their Peter Rabbits and start collecting hammered pennies? In years gone by I might have suggested such beginners join a coin club but nowadays they simply don’t, hence Bexley’s fate. Instead they go on-line and join a forum, and whilst that is excellent, and I would encourage anyone who collects to do so, it still isn’t enough. To be a real collector you need to look at coins, handle coins, talk (and I mean talk, not message) to others who share your passion, buy your coins from an actual person not just from a picture on an on-line auction—you need to be part of the hobby in all its forms. Whether we realised it or not, that’s what we were all doing in the playgrounds all those years ago: we were becoming part of something that has stayed with us for decades—and it was something real, not virtual, and that is why it has lasted as long for us as it has. I just wish I knew how we could get that back. Any thoughts?
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