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The Chicago Tribune

Imagine a hobby that enhances your appreciation of art, expands your knowledge of history, geography and politics, helps you gain and strengthen organizational skills and provides opportunities for socializing.

Would it be wise to embrace such a hobby as you head into your golden years? You bet your bottom silver dollar it would, say avid coin collectors.

Appealing to all

Coin collecting is a terrific hobby for both older and younger people because it involves one's intellect, says Gilles Bransbourg, assistant curator of Roman coins at The American Numismatic Society in New York City, a museum and research institute devoted to the study of coins and currency. "Being intellectually active is a good thing, whether you're 30 or 70," he asserts.


David L. Ganz started collecting coins 50 years ago, when he was 10. He hasn't stopped since. "I collect coins because the hobby informs me about history, military history, government, political regimes, economies and religion," says the New York City attorney. "You can learn about how civilizations begin, expand, become empires and decline . . . It's been the hobby of a lifetime."

Mike Fuljenz, a Beaumont, Texas coin dealer, reports that coins are like "history in your hands. Coins in ancient times were like a newspaper, telling about who was in power, and whether the ruler was peaceful or a warmonger based on the design symbolism. For example, arrows (on coins) indicated war, while olive branches were a sign of a desire for peace."

Long-time Chicago broadcaster Donn Pearlman, now a spokesman for the Professional Numismatists Guild, a non-profit organization comprised of the country's top rare coin and paper money dealers, reports that every coin ever stamped has a fascinating story to tell about people, places and events.

"When collectors look into the historical significance of any coin, rare or common, they learn about the reasons certain individuals or symbols are depicted on the money, the economy of the times and even geography and art," he adds.

"You're never too old to learn, and coin collecting is an enjoyable way to learn about the history of the United States and the world," he adds.

Benefits of collecting

Coin collectors also experience both pride of ownership and personal accomplishment, says Pearlman. Acquiring a desired coin, whether by purchasing the coin or finding it in circulation, can foster a strong sense of pride.

And completing a set of coins, whether a modest Lincoln cents set or the 12 Caesars of ancient Rome, can be truly rewarding, Pearlman reports.

There is also a social component to coin collecting that can be highly beneficial for older adults. "Older people may enjoy the camaraderie of a club," Fuljenz says. "I'm a former coin club president, and many older members enjoyed sharing experiences and stories at those monthly meetings."

For his part, Pearlman reports as a result of long-time attendance at local coin club meetings and national coin conventions, he has forged decades-long friendships with people not just in the U.S., but from Great Britain to Australia.

For older adults, hobbies such as coin collecting can contribute to healthy aging, says Julie Bach, assistant professor of social work and chair of the gerontology certificate program at Dominican University in River Forest.

Bach says those who age successfully maintain high cognitive functioning that is enhanced by collecting, studying and organizing, she says. "The other model of successful aging is continuing engagement with life. If they're going to places where coin collectors gather, that's getting older people out and sharing ideas."

Getting started

You needn't be wealthy to start a coin collection, Pearlman reports. It's possible to start simply by assembling a set of popular 50-state commemorative quarter dollar designs issued for circulation from 1998 or 2008, or the current "America the Beautiful" designs.

"Some people who first started collecting coins from circulation expanded their collections by purchasing from dealers examples of earlier U.S. coin designs dating back to the 1790s," he adds.

"Depending on your budget, you can also enjoy assembling a set of different designs and denominations of U.S. coins struck during the 20th century, from Indian head cents to Eisenhower dollars to Double Eagle $20 denomination gold coins."

Although the rise in precious metal prices has spurred some to join the hobby, Bransbourg cautions there is very little relationship between the value of rare coins and their metallic content. For instance, rare Roman gold coins contain seven or eight grams of gold, whose value would translate to $400 or $500 on today's market. But each coin itself might fetch $15,000.

"Metals prices are but one of several factors," he says. "The price of a rare coin is based on rarity, beauty, quality, condition and sometimes the message on the coin."

If you don't know coins well, it's important to know your dealer, Pearlman urges. Ask how long the dealer has been in business, and whether he or she is a member of the Professional Numismatists Guild, who must adhere to a code of ethics in buying and selling numismatic merchandise.