Encouraging Kids to Respect History

random coins

One of the things I love about art fairs is interacting with children. I’ve had very few troublesome kids. Some completely don’t care what I do, but some of them are really curious once they figure out it’s all money.

Some are impressed with their age. I carry around a junkie Roman coin they can all handle. Every once in a while a kid will drop it onto the table when I tell them how old it is, as if they misunderstood whether it was OK to touch.

American Large Cent, used until 1857.

Some are fascinated by how money has changed over time. They find the American three cent nickel confusing and amusing. The large cent America used before modern pennies is impressive. (At 28mm it’s almost as big as a Kennedy half dollar.) The 1823 Irish penny, which at 34mm is almost the size of an Eisenhower dollar, causes eyes to go wide.

We don’t teach kids crap about history. When it’s taught in primary school at all, it’s largely list memorization: names of presidents, battles of the revolutionary war, various important dates, etc. It’s not engaging, and it’s not terribly instructive. So if a kid shows interest in something because it’s old, you bet I want to encourage it.

Listening to Mom

Also, children are hilarious. One time, a group of kids got ahead of their parents, and I offered each of them a free coin (mostly so they might go home and learn something, but also to keep their hands off the merchandise). The youngest girl looked oddly panicked, so I assured her she could have one too.


With that much emphasis, I suspect she may have very recently gotten in trouble on this matter. At least she was listening to Mom, if perhaps overly literally.

Queen Juliana

Occasionally, the kids get petulant. One girl made very sure her mother knew exactly how bored she was while Mom shopped.

I offered her the coin bin. Some kids go through great pains to choose the perfect coin: the shiniest, the oldest, the biggest, the smallest, the largest denomination, etc. She randomly picks one and pretty much ignores it.

“What did you get?” her mom asks. The girl shrugs. “You should let the lady look at it and tell you.”

She hands over the coin. It’s from the Netherlands, and it has Queen Juliana on it.

The girl’s eyes go wide. “But…MY name is Juliana.”

And suddenly that coin was her most treasured possession. I can only hope she went home and looked up Queen Juliana. I don’t care what she learned. Heck, I’m fine if she just learns there’s a country called the Netherlands. I figure if one in ten kids learns something from their free coin, I’ve accomplished something.

But I Digress: From 1890 to 2013, the Netherlands was ruled by women: Wilhemina, Juliana, and Beatrix.

Checking Dates

Last weekend, I was at Art Street in Green Bay, and two girls, about 9 years old, figured out the coins’ dates are on the back of the price tags. There were a lots of “oooohs” and “aaaahs” as they found older dates. Of course, to a 9-year-old, 1964 is an old date, so the stuff from the 1800s and early 1900s was kind of blowing their minds.

A little while later, I checked my displays to make sure everything is sitting properly on their mannequins and the prices are visible. Then, I spent the next few minutes fixing over 50+ price tags because the girls had, indeed, flipped every single one of them to see the date.

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