Behind the Spine: Make collecting a lifetime adventure for kids

By Paul Kennedy

Why can’t they be like we were /
Perfect in every way? /
What’s the matter with kids today?

When Paul Lynde ponders that eternal question in the classic musical “Bye Bye Birdie,” he’s not only singing for bewildered parents everywhere but for many collectors as well.

Why yes, those darn kids, what’s their problem? Why can’t they be more like us? That’s the great lament of graying collector clubs everywhere as they scramble for younger members.

Pamela Wiggins sharing wisdom with kids

Pamela Wiggins practices what she preaches by sharing costume jewelry history with a Central Texas Girl Scout troop. (Photo by Jay B. Siegel)

I’ve heard this cry for youth for almost 20 years. Some think it’s a nearly impossible task, akin to attracting a teenager to a party with the promise of listening to Frank Sinatra records. Sinatra may have been Chairman of the Board back in the day, but to kids he’s more like Chairman of the Bored. Same with collecting, it would appear.

But to Pamela Wiggins, author of Collecting With Kids, the trick to attracting young collectors is no trick at all.

 

Sharing Sense of Self in Introducing Kids to Collecting

It mostly has to do with love, time and a desire to share. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, relative, educator or club member, if you have those attributes and are willing to give them away freely, well, concerns about the future of the hobby are misplaced.

“When I look back on my childhood, some of the fondest memories find me by my mother’s side,” Wiggins says. “I was a momma’s girl, and where she went, I went.”

And where her mother went was antiquing, 6-year-old Pamela in tow. Soon the little girl was starting her own collection of porcelain animal families, adding to it 10 cents at a time at garage sales scoured with her mother.

“I found myself drawn to Depression glass at the flea market we frequented, and that led to reading Mom’s book on the topic cover to cover. I studied it so often, in fact, that I soon knew all the patterns better than she did.”

Childhood Experiences Influence Adult Occupation

Today, Wiggins is an antiques expert for the website About.com and has written several books, including Warman’s Costume Jewelry. Her “Kids & Collecting” column found in Heritage Magazine for the Intelligent Collector served as the foundation and inspiration for her new book.

Through the years, Wiggins reached out to professionals in the collecting field. She was curious how they got started, who inspired them and how they try to inspire others. The book is filled with insight, tips, advice, discovery and anecdotes on how to nurture the naturally curious mind of a child. The overarching message, however, is that mentoring is the key to the next generation of collectors – as well as the reward.

“From their collecting mentors, kids learn money management, history related to what they’re collecting, and how to be good stewards of the objects in their care,” Wiggins says. “Children may even find their collecting passion leading to a career. I’m living proof of that, as are many others folks I’ve interviewed over the years.

“But most of all, collecting encourages children to have fun because that’s the best part of being a kid. Kindling that enjoyment lets you seize the blessing of having a child in your life.”

Looking Ahead Using Insight From the Past

Collecting With Kids is breezy, fun and an informative how-to guide for anyone longing to share the world of discovery found in collecting. Of course, discovery is not limited to collectibles. When we share of ourselves we get something back in return.

“Mom’s been gone since 2007,” Wiggins says. “I still miss calling her to share my latest find. What I’d give for just one more antiquing adventure together.”

Instead, Wiggins gives us a guide to help us all pay it forward. In the process we honor our past and ensure the future.

So what’s the matter with kids today? It turns out, not much – at least nothing you or I or any other collector can’t handle.

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