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 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
The act 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
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 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 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 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.
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 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 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
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 and bonds.
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
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,
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.