in Them Thar Hills? - Interview with Tom Pilitowski By
Diana Aydin, Jewish Exponent Feature
Thursday, April 17, 2008
When Tom Pilitowski was about 6 years old,
and at home because of the flu, he took out his brothers
coin collection, kept in Whitman folders, and cleaned the
coins with a pencil eraser.
Not sure why I
decided to do that, he said. Hes my
older brother, Billy, and as the younger brother I probably
wanted to do something to help him out. And noticing
his coins were dirty, I decided to clean
of kindness wasnt appreciated when his brother saw what
he had done.
Pilitowski, a coin dealer and president of U.S. Rare Coin
knows better now, but the experience was his very first
exposure to coin collecting.
The passion slowly
developed over time, and it was others around me that
noticed that [development], he said. I didnt
realize that Id become a lifer in
the profession [till] years later.
Like Pilitowski, a collectors passion
for collecting items like stamps or coins can start in childhood.
Editors Note: Tom also did an interview
on 3-14-08 with CoinChat
Thats the way it is for most people,
said John Apfelbaum, president of Earl P.L. Apfelbaum, Inc.,
in Jenkintown, Pa., about stamps. Most people who become
serious collectors in adulthood also collected when they were
children and they get back into the hobby.
But what starts as a hobby could also be a
profitable investment. Some financial planners recommend
20 percent of ones total net worth to be in tangible
assets of one kind or another, Pilitowski said. Some
recommend more, some less. I think much depends on the individual
and how knowledgeable and comfortable the individual is with
From stamps and antiques to less-conventional
items like Barbie dolls, investors can turn their passions
into long-term, even valuable investments. Someone can
start a collection of very minor things, said Frances
Zeman, director of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Appraisal Resource
Associates, Inc. There are so many things to collect,
all the way from bottles and cans, and all kinds of ashtrays,
and little McDonalds things and all sorts of things
you can collect, anywhere from a few dollars up to millions.
Those unusual items can even include old soda
and beer cans. While most people collect such items as a hobby,
there can be investment potential in cans, according to Tom
Rutledge, who runs the Web site Soda and Beer Can Connection
(www.sodaandbeercanconnection.com) with fellow collector Dave
To purchase cans for an investment you
must be very knowledgeable, regarding the rarity of the cans
that you purchase, Rutledge said. As with any
investment, there are risks. Occasionally, after a rare can
is purchased, somebody will find a group of the same can.
Although the can still has value, it could be greatly decreased.
And investing in stamps and other goods is
not necessarily an easy investment.
Its a hobby with a long history
and long tradition, and stamp prices have gone up over time,
Apfelbaum said. But Im not sure its the
best way to invest. And there are issues of having to take
care of the stamps that you have. You can lose them or damage
them and you have to insure them. Its not really for
But for those who do choose to invest in such
objects, the benefits could be numerous.
There are many, but examples of benefits
include confidentiality for one, as there are no reporting
requirements, no social security numbers taken, as is the
case in almost every other form of investment, Pilitowski
said of coin investment.
Another is portability. A virtual fortune
can fit in a safe deposit box or even in ones pocket.
In order to realize those benefits, education
and the guidance of insiders is important, according to both
Zeman and Pilitowski.
No one would start collecting tropical
fish and just throw their fish into a teacup, added
Apfelbaum. They learn about what theyre doing.
When John Yarmac, a customer of Pilitowski
since the early 1990s, began investing in coins, he knew
absolutely nothing. He educated himself by reading coin
publications and books. Also important, he said, is a trustworthy
and knowledgeable coin dealer.
Silver and Gold
I still have some relatively valuable ones, and its
a nice way to hold on to some wealth in a very small area,
said Yarmac, 67, of Buckland, Mass. I am a great believer
in gold and silver as an investment, as a protection against
Yarmacs gold and silver coins account
for about 50 percent of his investments, in addition to CDs
Theres a basic value to this stuff
as an antique, but also as gold, he said. Its
sort of the last place if you want to assure something to
give to your relatives when you die or to live halfway decently
in your older age.
And you dont need to spend a fortune
on rare items in order to make a profit. For the most part,
according to Zeman, collecting items for investment isnt
limited based on income.
People can buy a coin here and there,
and put them away for a rainy day and not need a fortune in
which to start, Pilitowski said.
Wealth could also be hidden in items investors
already have in their possession.
I receive calls and e-mails every day
from people who have no idea of what the value is of coins
and other tangible assets they have inherited.
So before you throw away the old furniture
in your attic or cash in your grandfathers old coin
collection, you might want to consider their investment potential.