Thirty years ago today, I had already given notice to my CPA firm that I was leaving to become president and part-owner of Liberty Coin Service (of which I became full owner at the beginning of 1995). I was leaving a company where I figured I was about year away from being partner, doing work I enjoyed, serving mostly wonderful clients, and great co-workers.
That day, I was working out of town on a client’s certified audit. I was in my hotel room after dinner reflecting on the change in lifestyle that I was facing. I wrote a poem titled “The Other Side Of The Wall” that reflected the uncertainty that the future would bring. This poem is included as part of my third book of poetry titled “Could I Do Otherwise?” Here it is:
I had trod on the safe, secure and boring side;
Growing slow and even, but, nevertheless, growing.
But I was not growing fast enough.
The other side of the wall is anything but dull.
For there come the great triumphs and disasters,
But no promises.
And there, not only the bad things can break the weak.
I’ve climbed atop the wall
to face the unknown
Where will I land?
Ok, so this was not one of my rhyming poems.
Well, thirty years later, I have a pretty good idea where I landed. When I joined Liberty Coin Service, the gold, silver, and rare coin markets had peaked the year before. There were nine companies listed in the local telephone book under “Coin Dealers.”
The rare coin market was declining sharply at the time. Within several years only two of the nine dealers in the phone book were even in business any longer, with the other survivor having gone through bankruptcy. Times were tough. I was only able to get three weeks of vacation in my first ten years working here. If more time was needed to get a job finished—I was the one who did it because I didn’t get paid overtime.
I received many job applications from people who had worked at coin dealerships that closed or cut back, but didn’t have the volume to justify adding the overhead of hiring them.
Several times in my early years in the business I questioned whether it was worth continuing the business. Each time, my conclusion was that the market would eventually improve.
Although I very much enjoyed working as a CPA, working as a coin dealer proved to be even more enticing. In high school, I dreamed of being a coin dealer, but it was not a specific field of study in college that I could pursue. However, I got lucky to find the right established company with an owner that was retiring. As the days passed I had the opportunity to hold in my hands many of the great numismatic treasures. I could have purchased the only known proof specimen of the 1844-0 $10 Liberty for $400,000, which is insured by the current owner for $4 million. The day after the Brasher Doubloon auctioned for just under $3 million in January 2005 (yes, this is the specimen pictured in the Red Book), the new owner let me hold it in my hand to inspect.
Along the way, I have helped tens of thousands of customers, most of whom were better off after dealing with my company than if they had not done so. I have had a string of student employees of which an exceptionally high percentage have gone on to successful entrepreneurial careers. And I have been blessed with a staff with an awesome cumulative knowledge about almost all things numismatic.
Along the way, I have encountered some bad apples among competitors. But there are far more hard-working men and women who are trying to do right by their customers. I am privileged that so many of them have become my suppliers and customers—and friends.
From the low point shortly after I got into this business in 1981 (after first becoming a collector in 1964) the staff of my company has grown about 10 times while sales volume has increased about 40 times. While I picked up a lot of bumps and bruises in my early years in the industry, they taught me a lot of inexpensive lessons. The bounty that has come my way in recent years was enough that I was able to share my time and treasure throughout the community, especially the schools. It has also made it possible for me to serve the coin hobby and industry in multiple capacities.
I plan to continue as a dealer for another four years after which I will probably trim my activities back to mostly writing and speaking.
If you ask me right now where did I land after taking that leap thirty years ago, I’d have to say “right where I belong.” Thank you.
Patrick A. Heller owns Liberty Coin Service in Lansing, Michigan and writes “Liberty’s Outlook,” a monthly newsletter covering rare coins and precious metals. Past issues can be found online at http://www.libertycoinservice.com/ Pat Heller is also the gold market commentator for Numismatic News. Past columns online at http://numismaster.com/ under “News & Articles”. His bimonthly columns on collectibles can also be read at http://www.lansingbusinessmonthly.com under “Articles” and “Department Columns.”His radio show “Things You ‘Know’ That Just Aren’t So, And Important News You Need To Know” can be heard at 8:45 AM Wednesday mornings on 1320-AM WILS in Lansing (which streams live and becomes part of the audio and text archives posted at http://www.1320wils.com.