dealer favors Early American but serves all ranges of collector
By Kimberly Pichler
Pilitowski, a dealer from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the memory
of his introduction to numismatics is something he'll never
I'd 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 couldn't have been more than 6 or 7 years old."
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.
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 he'd give me $100.
I was so intrigued that I kept the coin!"
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."
time later, numismatics crept back into Pilitowski's life. He
bought his brother's coin collection, which by then contained
much more than Lincoln cents.
complete sets of Indian cents, Mercury dimes, Walkers, Morgans,
a real collector's collection. It rekindled my fascination with
coins." he recalled.
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 Top's Numismatics.
probably a silly name, but it was symbolic of Tom and Pop."
he explained. "I'd 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."
Pilitowski moved to Florida. He didn't 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.
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 Investment
a numismatic position; it was more or less a sales position.
I wasn't around coins or collectors. I was certainly capable
of doing the job, but I was unhappy. I'm
more of the collector spirit."
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.
main area of interest is Early American coinage, specifically
pre-1810 specimens. For him, the appeal of these pieces lies
in their history.
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
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? It's fascinating, and the foundation
upon which our nation was built."
Pilitowski has developed a clientele for Early Americans, he
also works with a wide range of other numismatic niches.
in every facet of numismatics, from the most general to the
most specific and esoteric," he said. "It's 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
customer base, Pilitowski is affiliated with several specialists
around the world.
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 Pilitowski's
most recent contacts concerned a private treaty sale of Bust
Dollars. The connection resulted from an ad that Pilitowski
had placed in Numismatic News.
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. It's 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.
man's 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 to 1803.
to serving all ranges of numismatic specialties, Pilitowski
is a strong proponent of numismatic education. He's fighting
what he calls "pop boys," a new breed of numismatic investors
who are in it solely for the money.
calls from neophytes who have been pitched by a telemarketer.
I'll tell them, 'Call Bowers and Merena - because they have
a good book department - and spend $75
on Walter Breen's encyclopedia. Don't buy any coins.
Put the book in your bathroom, because then I know you'll flip
through it. Find designs that you like and call me back. Then
we'll discuss what's feasible."
percent do get back to me and are thankful. If you don't learn,
you're going to lose, and those people are lost to the hobby
forever. I try to provide information so people know what they're
dealing with. Everyone's got to win or it's not a good deal."
All in all,
Pilitowski reflected, his numismatic adventures over the years
have been terrific.
been fortunate.this is what I love to do." he said.