The Interesting Expert of the Week column spotlights experts from within the ProfNet Connect community that we think readers and reporters will find interesting and timely. With nearly 50,000 profiles, ProfNet Connect offers journalists a vast database of experts and influencers on virtually every topic imaginable. In addition, reporters can also submit a ProfNet query to request experts on a specific topic.
If you know what numismatics is, you’ll likely find this week’s featured expert as interesting as I do.
By day, Donn Pearlman is president of Donn Pearlman & Associates, a public relations and marketing communications planning firm in Las Vegas. By night, he collects rare coins and paper money, sports memorabilia, comic books, and entertainment and celebrity memorabilia.
A former award-winning journalist with CBS in Chicago, Pearlman has authored four books: "Breaking into Broadcasting," "Collecting Baseball Cards," "Making Money With Baseball Cards" (co-written with Paul M. Green), and "Best Buys in Rare Coins," all published by Bonus Books.
Pearlman was kind enough to answer a few questions for us regarding his collection:
What first interested you in collecting?
I was about 8 years old and saw a shiny new Lincoln cent. I was intrigued by the brightness and color, and that started my coin collection. I actually still have a few Wheat cents I collected from circulation and put into individual paper holders and wrote down information about each one. The coins are probably worth 2 cents to a dollar each, but they're worth a million dollars in memories for me.
What was the first collector’s item you owned?
The first valuable item I owned I bought at face value, 50 cents, and sold four years later for $400. It was a roll of the “small date” variety1960 Philadelphia Mint Lincoln cents. Every coin in the roll – which I bought from a friend who got the roll at the bank – was a small date variety. At the peak of the market in 1964, I sold the roll of 50 pennies for $400, a lot of money for a high-school senior back then!
What is your most prized possession?
I usually collect things that either look interesting or are grossly underpriced. But my favorite all-time item was given to me as a gift for my work on a client's project. It's a commemorative re-strike of an 1855 $50 gold coin struck from actual Kellogg & Company coin dies and made from California Gold Rush-era ingots recovered from the 1857 shipwreck of the SS Central America, the fabled "Ship of Gold."
From 2000 to 2003, I assisted with the publicity and marketing of historic sunken-treasure coins and gold bars recovered from the ship. As a fundraising project for the San Francisco Historical Society, a small number of the commemorative re-strikes were produced, and I was given one by the California Gold Marketing Group. Because it was made with actual 1855 dies and composed of Gold Rush-era bullion, it literally is history you can hold in your hands.
What is the one collectible you wish you owned?
If I had Warren Buffet-like money, I would have purchased from Steve Contursi of Rare Coin Wholesalers the unique 1787 Brasher Doubloon with the EB hallmark of Ephraim Brasher on the eagle's breast. (The other known Brasher Doubloons have the EB punchmark on a wing of the eagle.)
Brasher was a neighbor of George Washington in New York City, and prominent numismatic author Q. David Bowers has called the unique Brasher Doubloon the most important coin in U.S. numismatics. Contursi generously exhibited it around the country so the public could see this national treasure, and I held this coin many times while helping to publicize those displays. It was sold in early January 2012 for over $7 million. My credit card limit doesn't go that high…
The back of the unique, legendary 1787 Brasher Doubloon (photo courtesy of Rare Coin Wholesalers)
How can someone find out if their cards, memorabilia, comic books, etc., are worth anything?
The Internet and hobby periodicals and reference books are good places to start, not only to get a ballpark estimate but, importantly, to learn about the memorabilia. Many dealers will provide free, informal appraisals. But if you don't know memorabilia, you'd better know your memorabilia dealer.
Grade, the condition of the item, is a crucial factor in determining the value of coins, stamps, comic books, trading cards and other collectibles. A well-circulated 1905 Indian Head cent may only be worth a dollar, but a well-struck specimen in genuine, pristine condition could be worth well over $1,000.
If you think an item may be valuable, I recommend having it certified for authenticity and grade. For coins, Professional Coin Grading Service; for trading cards, autographs and sports memorabilia, Professional Sports Authenticator; for stamps, Professional Stamp Experts. (I am a consultant to some of these companies.)
If someone does own a valuable item, what's the best way to make money from it?
If it is truly historic and valuable, you may want to consider offering it at a public auction. Yes, you'll pay a consignor's fee for the auction house to catalog, promote and sell the item(s), but chances are you'll get more money for it that way.
Also, major action houses, such as Heritage Auctions, the world's largest vintage collectibles auctioneer, offer advance money to consignors based on the pre-auction estimate of the item(s). That way, you can get money weeks or months before the items are sold. (I'm a consultant to Heritage.)
[Pictured: PSA-certified 1910 era Cy Young baseball card. Photo courtesy of PSA.]
How does someone in your profession avoid being duped?
Educate yourself to learn about what you want to collect or want to sell, and then deal with reputable people. Mike Fuljenz of Universal Coin & Bullion, does a lot of consumer education work (and has won awards), and he advises people to do their homework before buying or selling. You have to know the dealer's reputation; check out the credentials. For buying or selling coins, ask if the dealer is a member of the Professional Numismatists Guild. PNG members must adhere to a strict code of ethics in the buying and selling of numismatic merchandise, and the Guild's motto is “Knowledge, Integrity, Responsibility.” I'm not a dealer, but I am a PNG Affiliate Member (AF-498).
How does the emergence of digital affect the collectibles industry?
The world is at your fingertips, but there are risks and dangers of dealing with unethical buyers and sellers. With few exceptions, I would not purchase any coin, stamp, trading card, comic book or autograph online unless it was authenticated by a major, respected third-party certification service, such as PCGS, NGC, PSE, PSA and CGC.
Do you ever miss the media world?
Prior to turning to "The Dark Side of the Force" (PR), I spent 30 years in newsrooms as a journalist and broadcaster. I could not effectively do what I do today without that experience. I miss some of my newsroom colleagues, but I don't miss getting phone calls at 3 a.m. from the assignment desk instructing me to cover a lumberyard fire in Joliet.
What advice do you have for budding collectors?
Collectibles should be fun. Don't speculate. The only thing rarer today than most Beanie Baby toys is finding someone willing to pay you a lot more money than you paid for it as "an investment." Collect what you personally enjoy, not simply because someone said to buy it or because you think it will make you a fortune on it next week. That way, you can appreciate the item for its artistic, historic or personal importance while it hopefully appreciates in value over the years.