For Tom Pilitowski, a dealer from Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., the memory of his introduction to numismatics
is something hell never forget.
His brother Billy, seven years his senior, was a
collector. One day, when Pilitowski was home sick
from school, he decided to do Billy, a favor.
I thought Id help my brother by taking
out his Lincoln cents and, because they were all dirty,
cleaning them with a pencil eraser. He kicked my ass
when he got home. Pilitowski recalled with a
laugh. I couldnt have been more than 6
or 7 years old.
Such an experience might have caused many a boy to
shy away from coins as anything except spending money.
A few years down the road, however, Pilitowski was
again entrenched in the hobby.
In 1969, when I was 14, I found a high grade
1833 dime in pocket change, he explained. I
took it to a local coin shop and asked [the owner]
how much he would buy it for. He said hed give
me $100. I was so intrigued that I kept the coin!
Following high school graduation, he briefly attended
college and studied history. He eventually took a
radio broadcast position in New York. Soon after,
thanks to what Pilitowski called a hot tip from
a friend, he switched careers.
I was getting into diamonds, jewelry and bullion
investments. he said. This was in 1977
or 1978, just before the boom.
A short time later, numismatics crept back into Pilitowskis
life. He bought his brothers coin collection,
which by then contained much more than Lincoln cents.
He had complete sets of Indian cents, Mercury
dimes, Walkers, Morgans
a real collectors
collection. It rekindled my fascination with coins.
Inspired by his recent acquisition, Pilitowski spent
the next couple of years in transition from jeweler
to coin dealer. He eventually opened a coin shop in
New Jersey called Tops Numismatics.
It was probably a silly name, but it was symbolic
of Tom and Pop. he explained. Id
made tons and tons of money with bullion investing
[between 1979 and 1980], and my spending habits matched
my income. I lost everything in 1981, and my father
loaned me the money to open the store.
In 1984, Pilitowski moved to Florida. He didnt
find much numismatic business in the Fort Lauderdale
area, so he simply began calling around to find collectors.
A portion of the clientele that he established, he
said, turned out to be people who had once fallen
victim to numismatic telephone scams and were happy
to find someone they could trust.
Tragedy struck in 1988 when Pilitowski suffered a
serious accident. He fell down a flight of stairs
and broke two vertebrae, which left him unable to
work for a year. Following his recovery, he spent
six months as a representative with U.S. Tangible
It wasnt a numismatic position; it was
more or less a sales position. I wasnt around
coins or collectors. I was certainly capable of doing
the job, but I was unhappy. Im more of the collector
Pilitowskis next career move took him to the
Heritage firm in Dallas, Texas, in the early 1990s.
After one year, however, he was homesick for Florida,
so he loaded up his truck and returned to Fort Lauderdale.
There, he found his customer following from the 1980s
ready to welcome him back.
Pilitowskis main area of interest is Early
American coinage, specifically pre-1810 specimens.
For him, the appeal of these pieces lies in their
I believe in the value of Early American coins,
he said. I want coins that are exquisite, of
value and not subject to dealer price manipulation.
Not to dispute the value on the part of their contemporary
counterparts, but those are subject to manipulation."
Early American coinage tends to have deep-pocketed
followers, he continued. It embodies the
beginning of our country. For example, who could have
afforded a $10 gold piece in 1795? George Washington?
Thomas Jefferson? Its fascinating, and the foundation
upon which our nation was built.
Although Pilitowski has developed a clientele for
Early Americans, he also works with a wide range of
other numismatic niches.
Ive dealt in every facet of numismatics,
from the most general to the most specific and esoteric,
he said. Its interesting to change gears
from hobo nickels to MS-65 Colombian Expo pieces to
rainbow-toned Morgans. I like all coins, and I have
customers that buy just about everything.
Among his customer base, Pilitowski is affiliated
with several specialists around the world.
Im probably positioned with some of the
top people in the industry. he commented. For
example, I have a buyer in Hong Kong who purchases
pre-1900 Hong Kong currency. And I have one in Canada
- the British Historical Society collection is based
on his collection. With that type of representation,
I have a specialist in every area.
One of Pilitowskis most recent contacts concerned
a private treaty sale of Bust Dollars. The connection
resulted from an ad that Pilitowski had placed in
My free classified ad yielded responses from
two of the most prominent early silver dollar collectors
in the country, he explained. They liked
my ability to locate material. Its fascinating
that from one free ad came the once-in-lifetime opportunity
[on the part of the hobbyists] to purchase the Bust
dollars in one fell swoop.
Also, one mans response resulted in a
gigantic deal in the way of our writing a book, one
that goes way beyond Bolender, he continued,
citing the standard reference by Milfred H. Bolender
titled United States Early Silver Dollars from 1794
In addition to serving all ranges of numismatic specialties,
Pilitowski is a strong proponent of numismatic education.
Hes fighting what he calls pop boys,
a new breed of numismatic investors who are in it
solely for the money.
Ill get calls from neophytes who have
been pitched by a telemarketer. Ill tell them,
Call Bowers and Merena - because they have a
good book department - and spend $75 on Walter Breens
encyclopedia. Dont buy any coins. Put the book
in your bathroom, because then I know youll
flip through it. Find designs that you like and call
me back. Then well discuss whats feasible.
About 20 percent do get back to me and are
thankful. If you dont learn, youre going
to lose, and those people are lost to the hobby forever.
I try to provide information so people know what theyre
dealing with. Everyones got to win or its
not a good deal.
All in all, Pilitowski reflected, his numismatic
adventures over the years have been terrific.
this is what I love to do.