By Tyler Rossi for CoinWeek …..
Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have long “strove to educate and enrich the youth of America”, a desire reflected in their motto, “Be Prepared”. When questioned about for what a scout should be prepared, the British scouting founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell replied: “Why, for any old thing.” Lord Baden-Powell’s answer reflects the broad-reaching nature of Scouting’s mission. As a result, the organization slowly became intertwined with the idea of boyhood in the popular psyche of our nation during the early 20th century.
When researching the Boy Scouts, one can easily stumble upon an “accidental history of American childhood” (White). As part of its holistic approach to youth development and in an attempt to direct the learning of youth, the scouting leadership created merit badges in 1911. For more than a century these badges have served as an “invitation to explore” for over 110 million boys. In fact, since 1911, the BSA has awarded over 121 million merit badges to scouts (Terry).
Numismatics, however, seemed to be a focus of early scouting even before the development of the Coin Collecting Merit Badge.
This is attested to in the 1911 Scouting Handbook, promoting The Boys’ Magazine by mentioning that the publication has sections dedicated to a variety of topics including “electricity, mechanics, photography, carpentry, stamps and coins” (Boy Scouts, 422). Though not included in the original merit badge series, the Coin Collecting Badge, introduced in 1938, followed later. The badge’s simple design, depicting a gold stater of Alexander the Great surrounded by the standard green background, became easily recognizable on a scout uniform. This easily identifiable ancient coin proved to be an intriguing choice since many of the requirements centered around collecting, identifying, and learning about contemporary coins both from the US and abroad.
As Scouting developed, so did the Coin Collecting Merit Badge.
The corresponding booklet and requirements have been periodically updated to remain relevant to both the scouts and the numismatic community. Included in the 1964 printing, the requirements centered mainly around type-set collecting and early 20th-century US coinage. As the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and other numismatic organizations expanded, the badge requirements followed suit. Currently, more requirements focus on coin grading and US paper money, as these have become more important to the numismatic community.
Like most Scouting awards, merit badges have undergone over a dozen manufacturing changes, and the coin collecting badge is no exception.
The badge has seen two major and four minor design adaptations, the 1969 redesign being the most important. Reflecting the United States Mint’s then-recent 1964 shift away from the 90% silver coinage, the Scouting organization redesigned the badge replacing the Alexander the Great stater with a Washington quarter. Despite the various cosmetic changes, interest in the Coin Collecting Merit Badge has historically been high with over 520,000 badges earned from 1938 to 2019. While only 81 scouts earned the badge during the first year, 17,197 badges were awarded in 1976 (Reiners).
While most of the 1964 booklet focuses on basic coin terminology, US types, and the minting process, it contains an important section on pre-modern world coins describing the development of coinage across the globe – including Ptolemaic, Thracian and Athenian tetradrachms as well as early cast Chinese money and Roman Aes Grave.
This emphasis on the early history of coinage slowly changed until, eventually, the 2008 printing placed equal importance on ancient and medieval coinage. Since a relatively small segment of numismatists is interested in pre-modern pieces it is understandable that limited energy is devoted to them in the merit badge book. These coins possess an inherent interest, however, and intrinsic historical value that could help attract additional scouts to the hobby.
The Coin Collecting Merit Badge and other youth initiatives notwithstanding, numismatics has generally been viewed as a hobby for older collectors. This longstanding predicament, partly due to the cost of many coins, the lack of local coin clubs, and a general reduction in the number of coin shows, continues to plague the numismatic community.
Consequently, the community is constantly trying to overcome this perceived lack of youthful collecting interest.
For example, in 1966 the ANA lowered its membership age limit from 17 to 11 years of age. Later, in 1976, they took another step towards the inclusion of young numismatists by allowing them to vote in internal elections. While at the 1990 ANA Summer Seminar, a group of young numismatists started the Young Numismatists of America (YNA); an organization that helped attract youth to the hobby. Unfortunately, the YNA slowly ceased to operate by the early 2000s due to disinterest.
Today the ANA offers a special discounted membership option to young numismatists that includes special auctions, a subscription to The Numismatist, interactive games, and exclusive resources and activities. By following this link–www.money.org/young-numismatists–you can reach ANA’s youth program. Combined with the varied efforts by individual collectors and shows, there seems to be a slight uptick in new collectors.
As the numismatic community continues adapting to today’s technological and increasingly cashless world, the Coin Collecting Merit Badge remains a fantastic tool to ensure that our youth retain an interest in collecting. While the accessible nature of Scouting and the base level knowledge instilled with this merit badge are both vital to developing the next generation of numismatists, we can draw comfort that as the pace of change seems to be ever-increasing, some things truly never change.
Even though they are considered ephemera, any collectors interested in acquiring examples of the Coin Collecting Merit Badge patch and book can find them readily available online at eBay or other commercial sites. In good condition, the early merit badge books from the 1930s cost around $15-20, with newer books ranging from $5-10. Because of the difficulty locating the first 1938 printing, a quality example would cost significantly more than later editions. Good condition early patches are valued at $15-25, while more modern badges cost around $5-10.
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Banks, Dave. “After 100 Years, Are The Boy Scouts Still Relevant?”, Wired. Conde Nast, 22 Aug. 2018: www.wired.com/2010/02/boy-scouts-at-100-years/#:~:text=Today%2C%20February%208th%2C%20marks%20the,been%20members%20of%20the%20BSA.
Boy Scouts of America. Boy Scouts Handbook. vol. 1. Boy Scouts of America, 1911. Project Gutenberg: www.gutenberg.org/files/29558/29558-h/29558-h.htm.
–. Boy Scout Handbook. 11th ed., ser. 6. Boy Scouts of America, 2005.
White, April. “How the History of Merit Badges Is Also a Cultural History of the United States”, Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, 1 Oct. 2018: www.smithsonianmag.com/history/history-merit-badges-cultural-history-united-states-180970306/?page=1.
Guild, William, et al., editors. Coin Collecting Merit Badge Handbook. Boy Scouts of America, 1964.
Reiners, Brian. “Coin Collecting Merit Badge History.” Scoutmaster Bucky, Mar. 2020, www.scoutmasterbucky.com/Scoutmaster-Bucky-Merit-Badges-Coin-Collecting-History.htm.
Terry, Jr. Robert. “Development and Evolution of Agriculturally Related Merit Badges Offered by the Boy Scouts of America”, Journal of Agricultural Education, vol. 54, no. 2, 2013, pp. 70–84.
Wendell, Bryan. “Be Prepared: The Origin Story behind the Scout Motto”, Bryan on Scouting. Boy Scouts of America, 4 May 2017: blog.scoutingmagazine.org/2017/05/08/be-prepared-scout-motto-origin/#:~:text=In%201907%2C%20Baden%2DPowell%2C,Scouts%20of%20America%20was%20founded.
Worden, Leon. “The Young Numismatists: Planting the Coin-Collecting Seeds”, COINage Magazine. Aug. 2006.
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About the Author
Tyler Rossi is currently a graduate student at Brandeis University’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management and studies Sustainable International Development and Conflict Resolution. Before graduating from American University in Washington D.C., he worked for Save the Children creating and running international development projects. Recently, Tyler returned to the US from living abroad in the Republic of North Macedonia, where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. Tyler is an avid numismatist and for over a decade has cultivated a deep interest in pre-modern and ancient coinage from around the world. He is a member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).