TipSheet: Old Money

Collecting money never loses popularity

and can earn you a pretty penny

Preservation, rarity, and demand comprise the elusive trifecta sought by coin collectors and dealers.  “When you get that combination the value of the coins goes through the roof,” says David Neita, director of sales for California-based American Heritage Minting (800-800-2184), “the first year of issue of any denomination is always in demand,” rarity matters little without demand.  “Any bust half-dollars, dimes, quarters from 1796-1838…anything from the early beginnings of this country is very much in demand,” shares Neita, who sources gem-quality coins for his wholesale dealership, but advises, “buy the level of preservation that you can afford.”

Neita, a former CBS Morning News (1968-1973) journalist, fell in love with coins while researching for a Mint Masters catalog he produced in 1986 for a dealer.  “It’s a high-risk high-reward business.”  The famed King of Siam coin set, including a specially minted 1804 dollar, sold for $10 million last year.  Coin dealers operate like stockbrokers, they aim to buy low, sell high and keep the difference to grow their business—and they are instrumental in negotiating for collectors.  At this year’s Florida United Numismatists Show in Orlando, auctions hammered $85 million, not including millions traded on the bourse floor, which hints at why this is a very secretive and close-knit community, adds Neita who hails from Brooklyn, New York.

“It took us 20 years to establish contacts in France before they would sell to us.”  Neita, 59, is primarily self-trained and specializes in US, English, and French coins.  He studied how to grade coins, the history of US gold coin varieties, and counterfeit US gold coin detection at the American Numismatic Association, “but there’s nothing like being on the bourse floor at a tradeshow, going from table to table studying coins,” he says.  “You have to be outgoing and like a sponge to soak up information.  The death in this business is the day you think you know everything.  It’s impossible to be an expert on every coin, find an area of specialization.”  Neita offers us what every numismatist (student of the coin) should know:

Theme strengthens a collection.  Before spending a dime on a Buffalo Nickel, Indian Head Cent or any coin buy the book advises Neita.  There are books on every US coin that provide dye varieties and historical insights including where the coin was struck.  “I own slave tokens made in 1793 and 1838, colonial paper money (issued by the Continental Congress to support the revolutionary war, some of it was made by Benjamin Franklin), and currency that bears the signature of somebody who signed the Declaration of Independence—that’s my kind of money!”

Preservation elevates value. Transport coins in a lightweight plastic flip that allows for carrying many coins at once.  “When handling coins always grip by the edge, never place a finger on the coin,” cautions Neita, “[being] thumbed or fingered effects the level of preservation, cotton gloves help.”  Storage should reduce exposure to moisture and dust.  Neita recommends a safe deposit box for very valuable coins, and abhors applying chemicals for preservation.  Coins converted to jewelry can never be a coin again.

Investing takes patience.   If exploring US coins for investment Neita suggests holding them for 3 or 5 years—or longer.  “Hold foreign coins for 5 to 10 years, but avoid investment grade if you might be forced to sell before these timeframes because you’re setting yourself up for the fall.”  The Guidebook of US Coins: The Official Red Book by R. S. Yeoman (Whitman Publishing; $16.95) is an annual guide that lists mintage (how many were made) and dollar value indicators.  Have coins graded by a third party like the Professional Coin Grading Service or Numismatic Guarantee Corporation.  Grading is key to authentication.  Reputable dealers guarantee their coins are genuine and will repurchase any coin at the highest price for that grade if the coin is found to be counterfeit.

Attend the premier coin show in the US, American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money or the Long Beach Coin and Collectibles Expo to sample the thrill of the bourse floor.  For a starter’s tipsheet refer to Helpful Hints on Enjoying Coin Collecting by Bill Fivaz (Stanton Books; $15.95) and A Guide Book of United States Type Coins by Q. David Bowers  (Whitman Publishing; $19.95), more research available via www.coinbooks.info.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

Fact Check: ‘Secret to All Coins’

Companion post to TipSheet: Old Money

The ‘slave token’, an English copper coin dating from 1793, was struck to resemble the British penny and circulated as money by abolitionists in England as a call to end slavery.  Today they are valued at $300 each.  “There are only a handful of us collecting them,” notes Neita, “the last one was cited in London.”

“The only Black folk pictured on currency—[usually] Southern obsolete and

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks (Photo: Wikipedia)

Confederate money—are pictured working in fields,” says coin dealer and enthusiast David Neita of American Heritage Minting.  Then there is Black America today: Jackie Robinson is on a 24K gold $5 dollar coin issued in 1997 for $300 and can now fetch $4,400—$8,500.

Crispus Attucks, a revolutionary hero and first of five people killed in the Boston Massacre of 1770, is pictured on the Black Revolutionary Patriots Silver Dollar issued in 1998 at $15 each it’s now valued at $160—$1,750 depending on coin grade.

Millions of the Booker T. Washington commemorative half-dollar, designed by African American sculptor Isaac Scott Hathaway and inscribed with

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver (Photo: Wikipedia)

“From slave cabin to hall of fame,” were issued from 1946 to 1954.  Individually they cost $40—$12,500.  Hathaway also designed the Carver-Washington Commemorative half-dollar that pictures conjoined busts of Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver and was minted between 1951-1954.

By PCGS’s 1—70 grading scale, a 62-grade Carver-Washington costs $20, while a 67-grade can command $15,000.  Neita’s forecast is the secret to all coins:  “They’re not making any more of them, [as] more people collect them they will go up in value.”

California-based coin dealer David Neita worked for CBS Morning News (1968-1973) and majored in journalism at Columbia University School of Journalism.  There are US mints in Denver and Philadelphia, last one to close was in San Francisco.

© SEAN DRAKES

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

15 Minutes: Pedigree Perfection

A Primer for the Pedigree Enthusiast

Michael Brown was on a leisure drive with his dad Michael, and Chinney, a Siberian Husky, when he came across a dog show.  Since that introduction to the sport of pedigree dog exhibitions, Brown has bred Chow Chows and competes in 70 shows per year.  From his home in historic Lambertville, New Jersey he unleashed the dogs for 15 minutes to offer this primer to assist your pedigree pursuits.

Michael Brown with Trudy and Shirley.

BREED RESEARCH.  Investigating genealogy is a matter of priority for pedigree breeders.  Before acquiring Marchwind Miro’ de Ca’nquet, a six-month-old Italian Greyhound, Brown says, “I went back ten generations looking at photographs of Miro’s ancestors…reading what owners had to say.”  Brown’s ideal breed type had to have correct size and silhouette, a hound-like head and high-stepping strut.  Dog World newspaper, specialty books and breed-specific Websites and kennels were instrumental to Brown’s research.  Visiting major kennels (including some in England) to learn the types of dogs they produce informed his analysis.  When creating your own kennel type you should be firm on how inbred or outbred you want to be—by adhering to either a small or broad gene pool.  “You can have a successful breeding kennel with two or three very good brood bitches,” adds Brown, who never buys dogs for breeding from pet shops.

SOCIAL TRAINING.  “First thing I do in preparing a dog for show is to get it a complete veterinary physical.”  This screens the dog for parasites that provoke weight loss, and coat and skin deficiencies.  Next, Brown sources a handling class at a respected kennel club to familiarize the dog with being around other dogs and humans.  “These classes are the best simulation of real dog show conditions.”  He and Champion Tudors Diamonds Are Forever (call name Shirley), a five-year-old high-strung Italian Greyhound, attended two 30-minute sessions per week for four months.  “I worked to socialize her, I took her wherever I went [and] I made sure to expose her to children, the elderly and people in wheelchairs, so that no social encounter would faze her.”  Weekly coat conditioning and teeth cleaning were coupled with networking with handlers at shows, and practicing

Michael with Emma.

postures and walking patterns required in the show ring.  Brown recommends budding handlers join the Owner Handler Association of America , as well as a club for their specific breed.

SHOWTIME.  When the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship awarded $50,000 and a 2004 Suzuki XL-7 for the owner of the Best in Show winning dog, and a $20,000 purse for best dog shown by its owner/breeder, debate flared, says Brown, “insiders felt that dog showing should remain an amateur status sport.”  “No award money is given at prestigious shows like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York or Crufts in Birmingham, England,” which attracts 20,000 dogs for its three-day extravaganza.  “No one does this for the money,” said Eugene Blake, a revered handler and prominent African American show judge with over 50 years experience.  Blake judges sporting, hound, toy and non-sporting categories and emphasizes that “we judge on breed type…without that you don’t have a [potential champion] what makes the dog breed is the way they move not the way they look.”  Blake believes the sport is very accepting, “I’ve been involved since before the civil rights movement when places were segregated.”

At annual National Specialty, prizes for competitors who win points toward championship ranking range from $25 – $125.  That’s nibbles ‘n bits compared to the princely penny enthusiasts invest.  Brown incurred a $6,000 vet bill for orthopedic surgery on Shirley’s broken leg, show entry fees range $22 – $50, and buying a healthy Italian Greyhound pup can cost $1,300, while a show quality pup can fetch $4,000.  Cultivate your curiosity, visit the American Kennel Club a comprehensive information emporium.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Courting Contractors

A first-time home remodel almost


becomes a costly nightmare

“Hands down I was sold on the house when I stepped onto the deck and saw the beautiful meadow and creek,” recalled Alvin Adell, M.D.  “I was sold on the setting, the house itself needed some love.”  For Adell, 46, an attending anesthesiologist, the appeal of his 3,200 square-foot Center Hall Colonial in Colts Neck, New Jersey includes being a 60-minute train ride from New York City and Atlantic City, and 35 minutes from Newark International Airport.   “I travel often, convenient access was a major selling point.”   In April 2000 Adell began financing the TLC his home needed.  His remodel project had three priorities: create the feeling of a luxe spa on a homey scale in the master bath, build-out a secondary level for the master suite (with fireplace, walk-in-closets and patio), and modernize the kitchen with a heated flooring system and open floorplan onto the dining room and deck.  “I love to grill,” shared Adell, “sometimes in the winter, so easy access to the deck is important.”

Dr. Alvin Adell’s remodeled and expanded kitchen, fitted with heated flooring and premium appliances, hosts many dinner parties and is the center attraction in his home.

“One of the best things was to work with an interior designer [Beau Boger] who knew where everything needed to go, [my] designer worked with the vision of existing furniture,” said Adell.  “I went around with my interior designer to pick the materials together.”  Adell considers his style to be traditional based with contemporary African and Asian accents.

Contractor selection.  Through referrals Adell sourced three contractors to interview, he requested references and visited one site for each contractor screened.  He “checked with the Better Business Bureau for outstanding complaints, and made a subjective assessment,” said Adell, “to see if I would be able to trust that person in my home when I’m not there.”   “One contractor was low-balling, I visited hardware stores to gauge the price of materials and knew it was impossible to do the job with his bid, he was eliminated.  Low-ballers eventually add costs or skimp.”  Adell established an account at Route 18 Lumber so his contractor “didn’t have to [shell-out] upfront money on materials and have to wait to be reimbursed,” said Adell, “and I didn’t have to worry about him overcharging me for inferior materials.  Invoices came directly to me and I qualified for acontractor’s price on materials.”

Master bath with spa comforts, including heated flooring, jacuzzi tub and multi-head shower, adds value.

Budget for surprises.  Even with layers of pre-screening you may not be exempt from costly misjudgments.  “Firing a contractor midway is one of the worst things you’ll have to worry about,” said Adell.  “It delays [project completion], contractors hate to come behind another contractor midstream to correct work.  In their mind, they know you’re vulnerable, so a $10,000 job could cost $50,000.”  In Adell’s case, he waited till the “big hole in the back of my house was sealed” then consulted his attorney to be certain he would be clear and free to fire his contractor for ‘changing design decisions, hiring substandard subcontractors, shoddy workmanship, and for being grossly behind schedule,’ though the contract lacked a timeline stipulation.  “I would find mistakes laid in concrete; [contractor removed] an oak hardwood floor that was never supposed to be replaced.”  David Jaffe,

Master suite build-out with walk-in closets, fireplace and patio, positioned over the two-car garage.

staff VP legal affairs for the National Association of Home Builders, said, “a ‘time is of the essence’ clause elevates the value the homeowner places on time, the contract can be terminated on the grounds of breach if the timeline is missed [however this can be] negated [if another clause pardons contractor] for delay due to reasons beyond his control.”  In hindsight, Adell said, “I would have found a contractor who has in-house plumbing, carpentry and electrical, which means if the general contractor actually employs those three craftspeople they have more control over their schedules, if the general contractor subs it out to individual contractors and the general contractor runs off schedule he’s at the mercy of the subcontractors.”  A full-service contractor is generally more expensive.  Research resources, project guidelines, and educational seminars are available through the National Association of Home Builders.

Adell credits his astuteness to a reading list comprised of Home Depot Home Improvement 1-2-3 (Meredith Books; $34.95), Reader’s Digest New Fix-It-Yourself Manual (Reader’s Digest Association; $35.00), and Architectural Digest.  “Share your ideas with others,” said Adell, “you never know how their input might turn out to be a brilliant contribution.”

One year beyond his projected deadline, Adell’s investment tallied a conservative $200,000—more than $50,000 over budget.  Recently, his property appraised at $1.2 million, which redeems the unsavory portion of his first home renovation.

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[  404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

Master of the Game

Chess whiz offers the right

moves to get you in the game


Long before Maurice Ashley attained the illustrious rank of International  Grandmaster of Chess in 1999 from the World Chess Federation (FIDE), he was impassioned about attracting young minds to one of the world’s most popular games of strategy.  “I want people to think of chess the way they think about tennis and golf,” offers Ashley, “with big tournaments and big prizes, so those who want to pursue chess as a career can do so without worrying about making a living.”

Ashley’s organization, Generation Chess, nurtures the skills of specially talented kids, and hosted the HB Global Chess Challenge at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minnesota which offered the largest cash prize ever for an Open chess tournament.  After years of deferring his dream, Ashley, a Jamaican national based in Queens, New York, siphoned inspiration from Tiger Woods‘ historic impact on the game of golf, and renewed his devotion to the sport of chess.  As a Grandmaster, Ashley is in an elite league shared by roughly 800 other players in the world.  He made history again in January 2003 as the first African American to qualify for the U.S. Chess Championship since the tournament’s inception in 1861.

Chess is a descendant of the Indian board game Chaturanga, which was altered as it migrated across Western Europe near the 10th century.  The game as we know it today was born near 1475.  The “complexity and never-ending freshness” of chess keeps Ashley, 38, amped as he commentates on tournaments for ESPN and grooms future Grandmasters through his work in schools.  There are over 500 million amateur and pro chess players worldwide, the popularity of this sport is rivaled only by soccer, and you can get in the game at any age.

“The best way to get started is to crack open a book,” advises Ashley.  His reading recommendations include Logical Chess: Move by Move by Irving Chernev (B.T. Batsford; $21.95), Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer (Bantam; $7.19), and My System by Aron Nimzowitsch (Hays Publishing; $14.87).  “It [helps] to have a practice partner you can play against frequently,” adds Ashley, who authored Chess for Success.  Traditional chess clubs are a dying species being replaced by online chess playing websites like Internet Chess Club.  Once you’ve been reading and practicing six months, you should venture into the tournament scene where player registration ranges from U$15 – U$280.  Visit the U.S. Chess Federation’s website for tournament listings.

To achieve growth in the game, players must perfect a skills set comprised of “patience, determination, and the willingness to treat failure and loss as motivation to learn,” guides Ashley.  The benefits for avid players are as rewarding as the cash prize incentives.  “Studies show that [chess] helps kids read better and boosts their self-esteem,” adds Ashley.  “Chess helps you become a better problem solver, improves concentration and critical thinking skills, and sharpens your mental focus.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

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