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Gold 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 brother’s coin collection, kept in Whitman folders, and cleaned the coins “with a pencil eraser.”

“Not sure why I decided to do that,” he said. “He’s 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 them.”

The act of kindness wasn’t appreciated when his brother saw what he had done.

Pilitowski, a coin dealer and president of U.S. Rare Coin Investments (www.usrarecoininvestments.com), 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 didn’t realize that I’d become a ‘lifer’ in the profession [till] years later.”

Like Pilitowski, a collector’s 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 Radio

“That’s 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 one’s 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 the investment.”

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 McDonald’s 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 Cichoracki.

“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.

“It’s a hobby with a long history and long tradition, and stamp prices have gone up over time,” Apfelbaum said. “But I’m not sure it’s 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. It’s not really for everybody.”

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 one’s 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 they’re 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 it’s 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 inflation.”

Yarmac’s gold and silver coins account for about 50 percent of his investments, in addition to CDs and bonds.

“There’s a basic value to this stuff as an antique, but also as gold,” he said. “It’s 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 don’t 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 isn’t 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 grandfather’s old coin collection, you might want to consider their investment potential.



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