Kyle Ruppert, 10, of Ellicott City stood in line at the 25th annual Suburban Washington/Baltimore Coin Show yesterday, eagerly awaiting his turn to scoop up a handful of coins from a white, plastic bucket.
"I wish my hand was bigger," he told his grandmother, Betty Yaugher of Brooklyn Park before digging into the pail. Kyle, a shy third-grader, grabbed some interesting coins, including a zinc World War II-era penny.
Organizers of the coin show at the Baltimore Convention Center wish there were more kids like Kyle. The free money grab was part of the show's effort to interest more children in the hobby of numismatics -- the fancy name for coin collecting.
"Kids are as rare as some of the coins. It's scary," said exhibitor Andrew Charbonneau of Delray Beach, Fla., who, at 30, said he is probably one of the youngest dealers at the Baltimore show that attracted more than 300 from all over the country.
"We're really going after the youngsters to collect," show organizer Edward Kuszmar said.
And no one could have been happier than Johnathan Barile, 8, of Armistead Gardens, who pulled a one-twentieth gold panda, a Chinese coin worth $30, from the pile of coins.
"It's great," he said, beaming.
For buyers, prices at yesterday's show ranged from less than a dollar to hundreds of thousands of dollars. But there was no cost to browse among the offerings that included a 1913-S $10 gold Indian coin for $12,250, a silver dollar for $3,000 and a 1918 buffalo nickel for $625.
Besides U.S., foreign and ancient coins, tables in Hall E of the convention center also were filled with paper currency, jewelry and memorabilia such as a Kennedy-Johnson campaign button for $45.
Another attraction was a display of $20 "error notes" missing half of the printing because the presses ran out of ink. Several were being offered for $179.50.
"It's a very tedious job," said Kuszmar of the printing process. "[The workers] do fall asleep."
During the weekend, paper-and-currency auctions also were being held at the nearby Marriott Hotel. One of the highlights was bidding on an 1864-L Indian cent that went for a whopping $63,250 to an unidentified buyer Thursday night.
Meanwhile, on the floor of the show, serious collectors sported magnifying glasses to examine tiny coin markings and thick leather briefcases on luggage carts to lug around their wares. Others were just looking for a good deal.
"We wouldn't miss it," said Francis Cavey, a 40-year collector from Bel Air, attending the show with his grandson, David Cavey, 20, of Essex. "It's a great pastime."
The American Numismatic Association -- which calls itself the world's largest nonprofit educational organization for the collection of coins, paper money, tokens and metals -- estimates there are between 1 million and 2 million coin collectors in the United States.
"We see growth in the hobby," ANA spokesman Stephen Bobbitt said.
Parents bring children
Many of the parents at yesterday's show, who were collectors in their youth, said they are returning to coin collecting because of their children.
"I stopped when I was 15 and got interested in other things," said Etan Savir, 35, of Pikesville.
But after sharing the childhood coin collection that he kept in a cigar box with his son, Nathan, 9, and daughter Stephanie, 8, he was hooked again, he said.
Other parents were in attendance only to indulge their children.
Mike Zolotorow of Ellicott City sat patiently at one of the concession tables while his son, Craig, 12, an avid collector, scooted around the hall as one of the show's pages, running errands for dealers who often tipped with special coins.
Better than school
"I wish I could do this all the time instead of going to school," said Craig, a sixth-grader at Mount View Middle School in Marriottsville.
Zolotorow, an equipment manager for the Baltimore Spirit, said he didn't mind spending the pleasant afternoon indoors because of the benefits of his son's hobby.
"He sits down to watch 'Jeopardy!' and knows so many of the answers," Zolotorow said. "He's learned so much about world history through coins."
And that's an exciting part of the hobby, collectors say.
"It is literally holding history in your hand," said Bobbitt of the ANA.
Added dealer Charbonneau, "It's unlimited who could have owned a coin. If coins could talk, we'd be amazed."
The show continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in Hall E of the Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St. Admission is free.
Pub Date: 3/09/97