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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?

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Collecting is also more expensive today and more businesslike, he adds. "Cards are not five or 10 cents anymore. Everything is governed by a price guide."

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In addition, today's instant-gratification culture does not allow for the gradual appreciation of collected items. When Mr. Heffner was 10, he bought a box of baseball cards and stored it, unopened, under his bed until he turned 18. "I knew the cards would be worth more if the box remained unopened," he says. "I paid about $6 for that box of cards and sold it eight years later for $500. I don't know if kids today have that same discipline."

Whatever the objects of a young collector's passion, they can stir fond memories for decades.

As a girl, Jacqui Pini of Boston collected small dog figurines. She and her mother would go to yard sales on Saturdays and buy them. At one point she owned about 40 of the dogs.

"I would line them up on my shelves and play with them," she says. "I still have two porcelain poodles prominently placed in my house, and every time I look at them, it reminds me of collecting them with my mother."

Seippel urges parents to encourage children to pursue things they like: "Help them develop interests that aren't just on a video game. It may help if they see parents collect."

Lynette Bondarchuk of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, started a "designer eraser" collection when she was 9, beginning with a tiny blue VW Bug eraser and a pair of pink lips. That youthful enthusiasm has now grown into an opportunity to collect with her young son.

"My son is 5 and gets excited when he sees funky erasers we can add to the collection, which now numbers about 800," she says.

They also collect fancy rocks and precious stones, such as geodes and amethysts. Collecting, she finds, "demonstrates a sense of commitment, and an opportunity for finding interest and taking pleasure in 'small things.' "

Susan Chait, creative director of a design firm in New York, and her husband collect pop culture. Their 9-year-old collects cards and Pez containers.

"Collecting is part of the fabric of our family," she says. "We take trips that become like treasure hunts to toy and comic book shows. Collecting objects has definitely made our life richer, giving us common ground and something to share."

Sohmers regards age 13 as an important milestone in collecting: "That's when boys discover girls and girls discover boys." Their interest in collecting wanes.

But when parents and their kids collect together, he says, "It's a way to bond and teach, whether it's picking up stones or stuffing leaves in a book. Preserving the past is better than trying to recapture it."

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