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Where have all the pint-sized collectors gone?

Most kids today don't collect stamps and baseball cards as their parents once did. Does it matter?

By Marilyn GardnerStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 12, 2009

Prized items: Thomas Sohmers peers from behind his collection of penguins.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

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Angela Watson remembers the pleasure of childhood stamp collecting. Whenever friends and family gave her stamps, especially from foreign countries, she would study them. Then she would turn to the Encyclopedia Britannica for more information.

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"Stamps provided a large part of my education in history, geography, science, and nature," says Ms. Watson of Long Beach, Calif.

Today far fewer youngsters are involved in the traditional "big three" of children's collecting – stamps, coins, and sports cards.

As Watson explains, "Getting kids interested in 'traditional' hobbies can be very difficult because we are competing with video games, skateboards, and TV."

That leaves adult collectors scrambling to find ways to draw a new generation of enthusiasts. Stamp clubs, Watson notes, are trying to attract children with free stamps and appealing activities.

"Kids used to collect stamps because it was a glimpse into a world you couldn't see just by turning on a computer [as they can today]," says Will Seippel, a father of five and CEO of WorthPoint, a database for collectibles. "If you were growing up in Baltimore, a stamp was a way to see Cameroon. Today there's not the primary lure of the distant land."

People collect for three reasons – nostalgia, decorative purposes, and investment, says Gary Sohmers of Framingham, Mass., who appraises collectibles for the Antiques Roadshow on PBS. He finds that collecting teaches children about maintaining objects and sharing their collections with friends and family. It also offers lessons in fair trading.

Mr. Sohmers's 12-year-old son, Thomas, is an avid collector of NASA memorabilia, computers, video games, and penguins, both figurines and stuffed animals.

For a time, baseball cards became more popular than coin collecting for children, says Mark Albarian, president of Goldline International, a rare coin and precious metals trading firm. "Now that's changing because of the United States Mint. The state quarter program, new gold and silver coins, and the new Lincoln pennies for 2009 have brought coin collecting to center stage."