KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- I remember my coin collection from yesteryear: A handful of silver dollars, some JFK 50-cent pieces, and an assortment of coins from faraway lands that I dreamed of someday visiting.
My smattering of coins was a disorganized mess, and all were tucked in a cigar box deep in my bedroom closet.
Compare that to today's typical young coin collectors. They have plenty of fun options, from the 50 state quarters to the new presidential dollars to other special series of coins. Chances are the coins are stored in colorful booklets that include a bit of history about the images and other design features.
Coin collecting truly has become a cool hobby for youngsters since the 1999 launch of the state quarters program. Frankly, I think it is one of the best ways to introduce young children to money.
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Not only can they learn about the value of money, how to count, and how coins are minted, but the designs, mint marks and other patterns can make history come alive.
The hobby has gone through a "neorenaissance" in the past 10 years, said U.S. Mint Director Edmund Moy.
Before the quarter series, the typical coin collector was a white male, 55 or older, said mint spokesman Michael White. "Now, coin collecting has a much broader appeal," he said.
According to the mint, more than 140 million Americans are collecting the state quarters, which have been introduced at a pace of five per year. The mint hopes to continue this collectible roll with other coin programs which are now or are about to be in circulation.
Whether it's baseball cards, stamps or coins, it's difficult to predict future collectible values. That's why I think the main objective -- especially for youngsters starting out -- should be collecting for fun. Cornering the quarter market can come later.
Here are some programs from the mint that are likely to interest young collectors:
QUARTERS -- Perhaps you thought the hugely popular quarter program was set to end this year with the release of Hawaii's design. Not so.
The mint will unveil six more quarters next year to cover the District of Columbia and the five United States territories: the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The coins will be issued in the order listed.
PRESIDENTIAL COINS -- The fifth design of the presidential $1 coin series -- James Monroe -- was unveiled on Valentine's Day. It joined George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, which were released last year.
The presidential coin program is similar to the quarter program, with staggered release dates. Due out next is John Quincy Adams on May 15, followed by Andrew Jackson in mid-August and Martin Van Buren, the eighth president, in mid-November. No living former or current president will be honored as part of this series.
In addition to recognizing presidents, the mint also is paying tribute to the nation's first ladies with $10 gold coins. Last month, for example, the mint honored Monroe's wife, Elizabeth.
PENNIES -- The mint plans to honor the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth with four new designs for the cent throughout 2009.
The first design will pay tribute to Lincoln's birth in Kentucky; the second will reflect his boyhood years in Indiana; the third will deal with his professional life in Illinois; and the fourth, his presidency. The coins will be issued every three months.
While the mint certainly has cranked up the promoting and marketing of coins and all the related numismatic products, the organization also has an educational mandate to teach children about money. The mint's Web site includes a history of money, a behind-the-scenes look at how coins are produced, tips on starting collections, and release-date schedules on the various series of coins.
Also on the site, a "Hip Pocket Change" section is devoted to children and offers everything from money trivia to quick lessons on the European euro. There also are classroom exercises for teachers.
Too bad coin collecting wasn't this hip when I was a grade-schooler. Perhaps I would have needed more than one cigar box to hold my collection.