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A new generation of coin enthusiasts is bringing life to an ancient hobby

Matthew Tavory stands with his arms spread wide to encompass his coin collection in a display case.
Yvonne Bertucci zum Tobel
/
WLRN
Matthew Tavory at a Palm Beach Coin Club meeting. The club meets twice a month.

Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome, was the first known coin collector. Contemporary coin collecting began during the Renaissance with Italian scholar Petrarch. It quickly became known as the hobby of kings — as only the very wealthy could afford it.

Nowadays, the collectible coin market has gained popularity during the pandemic. A number of young hobbyists are turning the recent coin boom into a business.

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Matthew Tavory, 21, has been collecting coins since he was 9 years old. “My first coin was a 1936 Wheat penny that I found in my dad’s van and I just went down the rabbit hole from there,” Tavory said.

When he was in middle school, his parents took him to a Palm Beach Coin Club show at the Polish American Club in Greenacres.

“I got $50 from my parents and they let me loose in this room when they had a big show. I think they figured I was going to come back with some magic beans and it would be the last they ever hear of my coin hobby. I came back with some coins and $100!” Tavory said.

Tavory started selling coins on Instagram in high school. After he graduated, he attended Palm Beach State College for a while. Then, he got a job as a coin grader for the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, the world’s largest and most trusted third-party grading service for coins, tokens and medals. Collectors and dealers tend to pay more for coins graded by NGC.

But when the pandemic hit, Tavory was laid off. He decided to go back to college and finish his degree. Meanwhile, the coin market started to skyrocket.

“The popularity and value of coins have shot up exponentially partially due to the pandemic, partially due to factors not related to it entirely," Tavory explained.

"People are stuck inside looking for things to do, nice hobbies to get into and coins is one of them ... People are rushing to put their cash into assets that they think will appreciate in value."

His hobby started to turn into a full-time business. Tavory’s travel schedule is intense — one week he’s in California, a couple weeks after that in Maryland, and then he's off to Colorado Springs. Tavory said he loves the excitement, but admits the constant traveling isn’t for everyone.

“It’s totally worth it! It’s helping me pay for college.” Tavory is now a student at Florida Atlantic University majoring in Revolutionary European History. He receives scholarships — including the Florida Bright Futures — but his coin business is paying for the remaining amount that isn't covered.

Tavory lives with his parents and works out of his home office. While his knowledge is extensive in the U.S. coin market, his passion is world coins.

“World coins require a lot of research — something a lot of people just getting into the market don’t have the patience for,” Tavory said.

He spends hours going through auction records to determine the value of some rare coins.

“Here’s a coin made during the siege of Vienna when the Ottomans were attacking it in 1529 and it was made to pay the defenders during this siege. You don’t have that kind of amazing history with U.S. coins.”

Tavory feels that world coins are generally undervalued in comparison to U.S. coins, where values are more easily accessible. Buyers can check the "greysheet," the published industry standard of wholesale values of U.S. coins. There is no “greysheet” for world coins.

According to Jeff Garrett, one of the nation’s top experts on U.S. coins, the U.S. coin market is strong — with overall values going up on average 10-30%, depending on the series. As the senior editor of The Official Redbook: A Guide Book of United States Coins, he’s experienced this first hand.

“I just finished the Redbook and this is the most work I’ve had to do in 10 to 20 years. I changed the value of almost every single coin in the United States series,” Garrett said.

Garrett said technology has changed the coin industry, disrupting the supply and demand of coins. Sales in his stores, Sarasota Rare Coin Galleries and Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries, are up 30-40%. His internet sales exceed his in-store sales.

With the demand for coins going up, many dealers are reporting their lowest inventory levels ever. “Today there are so many retail buyers and sellers on the internet that 90% of coins are going into retail hands — so for those of us buying coins at the shows, it makes it more challenging,” Garrett said.

On his Instagram page, Tavory posts a variety of coins — including some from Canterbury, Rome and Henry VIII. Some date as far back as A.D. 132. Tavory sells his coins to dealers at coin shows and on eBay. He said half of his sales come from Instagram.

“I really think Instagram is the future for young people on coin collecting."

"People always ask me, what prevents coins from going the way of the stamps? And I tell them there are tons of young kids on Instagram. It’s easy to share, it’s easy to be very personal. And it’s just always expanding, young people getting into it,” Tavory said.

While the gathering of the Palm Beach Coin Club is mostly made up of older men, there is a table of young adults. Brandon Ostfeld, 17, has been collecting since he was 13 years old. He said COVID was a catalyst for him.

“During the height of COVID, I was selling and buying ... so I was able to make a lot of money doing that. People were getting their stimulus checks, people were buying like crazy. Everyone was at home and that’s what really got me to sell on Instagram, eBay and Facebook groups. Then, eventually when the shows came back, I started to sell at the shows,” Ostfeld said.

Victor Gordon’s dad drove his 15-year-old son to the Palm Beach Coin Club from South Miami. Gordon has been collecting for two years and runs an Instagram business where he deals American coins.

I like the history behind the coins — like coins from the 1800s — imagine 200 years of circulation and all the hands they’ve passed through and even all the wars they’ve been in,” Gordon said.

Tony Swicer, President of the Palm Beach Coin Club, said he loves to see young people at the meetings. “We want young people, because we have to perpetuate our hobby. When we do get kids, we do everything we can to keep them.”

Dan Pecoraro, a science teacher at L.C. Swain Middle School, has been running the school’s coin club for 17 years. He met Tavory at a Palm Beach Coin Club show.

“Now I remember when he was a little kid, and he would come here and he would buy and sell — some people wouldn’t trade with a kid. But I believe if you give kids respect and take the time to listen to what they’re saying, it makes all the difference,” Pecoraro said.

Matthew and friends cut.jpeg
Yvonne Bertucci zum Tobel
/
WLRN
From left: Brandon Ostfeld, Dan Pecoraro, Richard Spencer, Matthew Tavory and Victor Gordon. Richard Spencer is Tavory's mentor. Spencer served as vice president of the Palm Beach Coin Club until recently.

Tavory believes that the thriving Chinese economy has caused the prices of Chinese coins to escalate. “This new middle class in China has money to spend. They can’t buy Bitcoin, so they’re buying back their heritage. The coins have a historical significance for them and it’s driving the prices up.”

Tavory said scarce gold and silver coins have both intrinsic worth based on their precious metal content and value as historical items. He recently sent a Chinese coin off to auction in Hong Kong, adding that it was worth about $16,000 three years ago, before the pandemic. It is now estimated to sell for $40,000 to $50,000.

Tavory has combined his passion for history with his coin hobby. His knowledge of both recently landed him a job with a coin dealer in Boca Raton.

The coin industry is changing, and Tavory is part of the transformation. His generation of coin enthusiasts is bringing new life to an ancient hobby.

Yvonne Bertucci zum Tobel discovered public radio during a road trip in 1994 and has been a fan ever since. She has experience writing and producing television news. As a freelance reporter for WLRN, she hopes to actively pursue her passion for truth in journalism, sharpen her writing skills and develop her storytelling techniques.