Are Hobbies Dead?

I retell this story often because of its poignancy. For those of you that have heard it, forgive my repetition. It goes like this. A senior collector urges his friend, a non-collector to attend a coin show with him.  His friend is intrigued by the idea, and agrees. After a day of visiting dealers and fellow collectors, and of course conducting the requisite coin trading, the two leave the show. “So, what did you think?”, inquires the collector. “Well”, begins the non-collector. “That room quite honestly looked like a senior citizen’s convention. The only ones older than the dealers behind the tables were the collectors that they were servicing. I fear for your hobby, because if things don’t change, the future may be void of coin collectors and a coin hobby as a whole”. This actual conversation did take place (or one very similar to it) and it was reprinted in the American Numismatic Association’s publication The Numismatist…in the mid-1930’s! How does the old saying go? “The more things tend to change, the more things really stay the same.”

This leads me to my topic today. Are hobbies dead as we knew them? Has the thrill of collecting things been replaced by electronic mediums which have captivated today’s youth? I turned 61 last week. When I was a kid in the 1960s we collected everything: rocks, stamps, buttons, baseball cards, Matchbox cars and of course, coins. Objects…things…captivated our attention. They made us think and learn about their history. They made us remember facts and figures that were pertinent to their existence. And perhaps most importantly, they made us desire more things. To some extant, my whole generation were collectors. There was not internet, there were no video games, and we didn’t have cell phones. Distractions were at a minimum, and collecting was our way of life. Every small town had a coin shop or two. Bigger towns may have had a dozen. Large cities like D.C. and Baltimore had 50 or more coin shops each. Department stores like Gimbels, Woodward and Lothrop and Sears all had coin departments. But that was then, and times have changed. Today most towns are lucky to have a single coin shop, and larger cities may have half a dozen. Maybe the fella attending the coin show back in the 1930s wasn’t that far off base….or was he?

Our lifestyles are going through a transition, and its one that we obviously can’t ignore. We truly are in the midst of a technological revolution. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded by it, whether it’s checking an app on our cellphones, fact-checking a resource on the internet, sending a text message or typing a story about hobbies on my laptop. It’s all around us, and without even realizing it, consumes our routines and lifestyles. So, have hobbies actually gone away, or are they just changing?

When growing up, my parents would take me to antique shows. They piqued my interest in collectibles, and served as a gateway to coin shows once I grew older. Today, those same shows have gone electronic, and now exist in a virtual format. Enter eBay. EBay was originally a platform invented in the 1990s by a handful of San Francisco area hobbyists who saw potential in an electronic trading medium for collectibles. Today, it is a behemoth of a marketplace, where a great percentage of trading secondhand goods takes place. Every mom, dad and child has sold something on eBay, and for many of us, it has also become an integral part of our business plans. My company is no different. We use eBay as a conduit to sell coins, currency and collectibles. We also use our web store, Collector’s Corner, Certified Coin Exchange and CDN Exchange to name a few others. The common denominators? These are all electronic platforms that didn’t exist a generation ago, and each has redefined how we do business. They have also redefined how this generation collects. My title to this discussion is Are Hobbies Dead?, so let me focus on that question for the moment.

As of 9:00 this morning, I observed 1,092,311 unique listings on eBay for United States Coins, 1,507,986 unique listings for United States Stamps and a staggering 17,585,445 unique listings for Baseball Cards. Mind you, these numbers don’t include world coins, currency, bullion, world stamps, football cards or non-sports cards, just to name a few other related areas. Suffice to say, the number of collectibles just being offered for sale on eBay is enormous. Consider that there are many secondary trading platforms to eBay that also market millions of collectibles, and it’s plainly obvious that collecting is not dead, or even on life support. Collecting appears to be thriving. What has changed is how we collect. Quite honestly, this aspect is not unique to collecting, but is indicative of a wholesale transformation of our lifestyles. When I need something in my office, I seldom stop my work day to hop in my car and go to a store. I can just as easily access those same goods on Amazon with just a couple of keystrokes. Delivery occurs within a day or two without me ever leaving my desk. Convenience is one obvious biproduct of technology.

So, what does the future hold for hobbies in the midst of a technological revolution? I believe that this raises an even more compelling question, and that is, what does the technological revolution offer for the future of our hobbies? The answers are several, each one very important in its own right. For starters, the internet marketplace breeds competition. Competition is vital to keeping service at a high level and prices down. Secondly, the internet offers information and answers, both in real time. There is no amount of data, history or background that can’t be accessed in a moment. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the internet allows us to network. We can find like-minded collectors, chatrooms, message boards and real-time virtual functions which allow us to expand our collecting horizons in almost unlimited directions. Technology really is our friend, and represents the future of our respective hobby.

By now, it should be plainly obvious that hobbies are not dead. Human beings by nature are inquisitive and nostalgic. Artifacts from an era gone by will always garner our attention, and especially so now, when their history is easier to research and their availability is more accessible than ever. Coins, stamps and baseball cards have not gone away. Nor have most other stalwart hobbies with a solid collector foundation. Instead of opening the yellow pages to “C” and looking for coin shops, we now go to our computer and type a web address, and quite honestly, that’s not a bad thing!