Pilitowski of US Rare Coin Investments's interview with Coin
Chat Radio on March 14 2008 as Who's Who featured person of
Debbie Bradley: Hello.
This is Debbie Bradley. Today I have Tom Pilitowski of US
Rare Coin Investments as our Who's Who featured person of
the week. Hi Tom, how's it going?
Good Debbie. How are you today?
Debbie Bradley: I'm fine.
Tell me, how did you get started in this hobby of numismatics?
Tom Pilitowski: Oh boy,
that was a long time ago. When I was a little boy, I was
home sick from school, and my older brother had been a coin
collector and I paid him a tremendous favor by taking a
pencil eraser to cleaning all of his coins to make them
nice and shiny.
Debbie Bradley: Oh, not
Pilitowski: No. Needless to say, he took it out
on me when he got home from school. That was my first exposure
in coins, and later when I was a teenager, I found an interesting
dime in pocket change. It was a 1833 dime with the variety
of the Last Three High. I was so intrigued by that dime,
and I brought it to a local coin shop in Garwood, New Jersey
and the offered nearly $100 for it and I was so intrigued
by it that it became a profession.
Debbie Bradley: Yeah, $100
for a dime, not bad.
Tom Pilitowski: A lot of
money back in 1969. Yeah.
Debbie Bradley: After that
almost $100 dime, what caught your fancy?
Tom Pilitowski: What caught
my fancy was how could such a little dime be that valuable.
So, I bought a couple of books and I started studying about
coins, and I went to a couple of coin shows, nothing really
serious, until around 1979, when people started talking
about silver and gold, and I became more and more interested,
and actually opened up a same coin shop. Became partners
with an older fellow who had a small shop, actually, on
Highway 9 in a little town in Bayville, New Jersey. That
lasted for six or eight months, and I finally opened up
my shop on the Highway, Route I don't know, in Bricktown,
New Jersey, and ultimately another shop on Main Street in
Belmore. New Jersey. From there in just kept on growing.
Debbie Bradley: It sound
like you were hooked.
Tom Pilitowski: Yeah, yeah,
I think you could say I'm a lifer.
Debbie Bradley: Well, if
you could select the first coin for someone to begin a collection
with, well, what would you recommend?
Pilitowski: Well a lot would depend on what that
person likes and perhaps the kind of money that person was
talking about buying a coin with. I've always had a weakness
for gold coins and also silver dollars. I would probably
try to swing that person into either Morgan Dollars or Peace
Dollars, or even $20 gold pieces, just as a starter, but
I would listen to that person to find out what does that
person like, and if he really didn't know, I might suggest
that he take a look through the Red Book. That's Youman's
Guide Book of US Coins, and try to pick out designs that
appeal to him, and see how, or if those designs fit into
what that overall plans were.
Debbie Bradley: Isn't that
at number one top bit of advice to collectors, is above
all else, make sure you collect what you like, not just
what might go up in value?
Tom Pilitowski: I think
so, yes. And I think that's why education is so very important
in this field. Even if starting out with a small guidebook
like the Redbook, I think it's vitally important to do that
before purchasing any coins.
Debbie Bradley: So, there
are still gold and silver coins out there that we can afford,
given how the metals is going through the roof right now?
Tom Pilitowski: Oh, I think
so. Even there on a smaller end, you have got everything
ranging from two and a half dollar Indian gold coins room
a classic sense, to more modern coins that the US Mint is
producing, like US Eagles that are a tenth of an ounce of
gold. Or a quarter of an ounce of gold. I think there's
something for everyone in that area.
Debbie Bradley: When you're
advising someone who's new to the hobby, it sounds like
the first tip would be to have a little bit of education?
Tom Pilitowski: I think
take your time, a little education. Buy a couple of books,
they're probably the best investment you could make initially.
Talk to a few dealers. Attend a coin show or two. Try to
gain access to as much information as you can. Eventually
you'll see something that really appeals to you, and then
start on pursue this hobby from that standpoint. If you,
for example, like Morgan Dollars, but feel somewhat overwhelmed
by the series, perhaps go into a small part of Morgan dollars.
Silver dollars that were minted in Carson City, for example,
have always been very popular, having a cartwheel from the
wild west, et cetera.
That sound like good advice. What about you? If
the sky was the limit, and you could buy one coin, someone
else is going to pay for it, what would you buy?
Pilitowski: Well, you know there was an action
many, many years ago, it was held by Stacks in New York,
and there was a Higley Copper. It was an old colonial coin,
a fellow by the name of Dr. Samuel Higley from Granby Connecticut,
happen to have a copper mine on his property, and out of
that copper mine he minted his own coins, one of which was
a variety that depicted a pic ax. That particular coin was
at auction, I believe it was a Stacks auction many, many
decades ago, and it had a hole in it. The way Stacks described
it in their catalog, was that because the pic ax so closely
resembled that of a tomahawk, the hole might have put on
that coin by an Indian who wore it. I never did get that
coin, I missed it. I most have been sleeping or something.
To the best of my knowledge, it's never come up for auction
again, but if it ever does, you can bet I'll be an aggressive
bidder for that coin.
Debbie Bradley: How much
would it cost?
Tom Pilitowski: Well, see,
that's just it. I didn't sell for a lot back then, maybe
$4.000 or $5,000, but I reckon it will sell for multiples
of that nowadays.
Debbie Bradley: But, it's
something that you like, so that would be the one to take.
Pilitowski: I think if I were to choose a second
favorite coin, it would probably be in the realm of gold.
I've always liked the 1907 Thank God in High Relief, and
I think that probably I would choose one of those in the
higher states of preservation, perhaps MS66 or MS67, and
I think that between those two coins, we'll have found my
Debbie Bradley: Good choices.
Well, you know what they say, behind every successful person
there's someone in the shadows. Tell us about someone whose
had a significant impact on your professional success.
Tom Pilitowski: Well, there's
many, but perhaps my wife is at the top of the list with
that. My wife, of course, is not only my partner in life,
but also in my business as well. She's the IT department,
the bookkeeping department, the billing department, and
she keeps me in line, quite often.
If I were to go further back in time, I would say probably,
whose still my mentor now, there's a fellow in New York,
I can give you his initials, RK. He has been a mentor of
mine for many, many years, and unfortunately I can't give
you his name, I don't think it's appropriate at this time.
I think those in the business will know who I'm talking
about, and he's become very close with me, and a confident,
a friend, and a mentor in this business.
Debbie Bradley: He'll know
who he is.
Tom Pilitowski: Oh yeah.
Debbie Bradley: What would
you say is the best business decision you have ever made?
Tom Pilitowski: Probably
the best business decision I made long ago, I thought of
myself as a pretty good numismatist, and a good salesman,
but I was never able to quite click with the business part
of the coin industry, and I interviewed with Paul Mitchell
at Heritage in Dallas. I flew to Dallas, and I met with
Paul, and I met with Steve Ivy, and ultimately, they gave
me a job.
In fact, I was top retail guy in their company, for the
most part, while I was there, and I learned a lot from those
guys. There's a reason why they're the biggest in the business
and I'm eternally grateful for the foundation that they
gave me, during my employ for them.
Debbie Bradley: That's
a nice compliment.
Tom Pilitowski: Thank you.
Debbie Bradley: Okay, one
Tom Pilitowski: Okay.
Debbie Bradley: Tell us
something most people don't know about you.
Oh, boy. You know, a lot of people think that I'm just a
coin dealer. I don't think that they realize how much of
a coin collector that I am, whether it's Hard Time Tokens.
There's one that's got a picture of President Jackson popping
out of a treasure chest with a sword in one hand and a bag
of money in the other, and it's labeled, "I take the
responsibility," to gem-proof $20 gold pieces, and
everything in between.
I am the consummate coin collector and it's very hard sometimes
to sell these things, I wish I could keep them, but it's
not possible. But I do as a dealer get at least the chance
to be exposed to so many different types of coins, and again
ranging from 90% silver coins to some of the finest known
pieces. 1859, Old Double Eagles, that weren't even in the
book. A so on and so forth. It's really a dream come true
to be a collector and be in this business at the same time.
You obviously enjoy your work.
Oh, absolutely. It's the best.
Well, Tom, thank you so much for sharing with us
today, and hopefully we'll be talking to you some other
time about maybe some other things in the future.