Mike Dozois, Geoffrey Demis, James Naughter and Brian Bucher (Photo submitted)
COLONIE — There is a certain fascination with coins and currency and for collectors of all stripes it goes beyond the buying power they possess.
There is a story behind everything, said one of the owners of Ferris Coin, Geoffrey Demis while describing a Spanish coin from the era of Phillip III, who ruled from 1590 to 1621, found in a ship wreck off the Florida Keys by treasure hunter Mel Fisher in 1986.
“When you get to know the business you know what is rare and is hard to come by and when one of those pieces comes in and you see it … it makes my day,” he said. “That’s what it’s about too. It may not be the price, it’s the rarity of a particular piece, the uniqueness of a piece and the history behind it and how it survived. That’s the cool part of this business.”
Also on display – or what will be on display once finishing touches are complete at Ferris Coin’s new store – is a currency shield, a large framed display of “fractional currency,” or paper money in denominations like 3 cents and 5 cents, from the Civil War era.
He said when the war broke out, people started to horde gold and silver so the government minted paper currency, or notes. Back then, there was a number of different entities printing money, like the individual states and financial institutions, so banks would display a currency shield so the tellers would know what notes they could take.
“You are seeing less and less of this stuff,” he said pointing to the large frame containing the ornate, decorative items of history. “It’s a great conversation piece, it’s educational and it’s just cool.”
Coins and currency to this day tell the history of our nation, from the pennies made of silver when copper was needed during World War II to the photos or images of our leaders to the intricate artwork depicting significant events that adorned currency throughout time.
“I’ve always had a fascination with history and when you get in the business and deal with certain things you tend to like a lot of different things,” Demis said. “The diversity of U.S. coinage, tokens, metals and paper money is fascinating. It’s so deep and rich from the beginning in 1776 to now. Anything of significance impacted our currency – the population and how the population spread out and the different mints and the technology and how the different events have caused changes in different currency, the depressions and wars have caused changes in currency and metals and tokens. It is a reflection of our history.
Charlie and Arlene Ferris opened Ferris Stamp in 1930 on Broadway in Albany. In the 1965, after Charlie died, Arlene sold the business to Wendell Williams, who re-located the shop to Lark Street and then, in 1976, to 114 Central Ave.
Now, the store calls 199 Wolf Road its home.
Demis worked at Ferris for some 25 years and recently — along with partners Mike Dozois and James Naughter — bought the business from Williams. They recruited longtime Colonie jeweler Brian Bucher, the former owner of Brittany Jewelry, and the four will have a grand opening on Nov. 1.
The business has changed over the years, and in addition to buying and selling jewelry and coins and currency, Ferris Coin will buy and sell gold and silver bullion and flatware. Four in-house experts can offer appraisals and can assist with getting each piece properly insured.
“Our business has been around for 87 years. We look forward to celebrating our 100th year,” Dozois said. “This move to a more modern, more efficient space in a new location will meet our current needs so that we can evolve with the changes in the rare coin industry.”
Williams was at the new Wolf Road location and said the business goes through cycles and is directly impacted with the price of gold and silver.
“Back when I started probably one out of every 10 people collected coins and now it’s closer to out of 1,000 people,” he said, adding fewer people than that collect stamps. “I collected everything. Large stamps from 1793 to 1857 and U.S. half dollars from 1794 to 1964 were my favorite. But I demanded perfect condition.”
While coin collecting is dropping off as a childhood hobby or pastime, stamp collecting is nearly non-existent among our youth. As such, while the rarest stamps have maintained their value, the mid- to low-level stamps have dropped in worth considerably.
The rarity of a coin or stamp certainly adds to the value, but that value is also directly related to the item’s condition. At Ferris Coin, there are a number of pieces of currency in protective, plastic covers and there are some in the old coin books many children are given by parents or grandparents as a start to their own collections. Mistakes, like a coin minted the same on both sides, are rare and also worth more than an average coin.
There are other things too that keep a child occupied instead of the old, blue coin books.
“There are probably more people collecting coins on video games these days,” Demis said, though he noted that the U.S. Mint’s 50 states and National Park series of quarters have revived some interest in coin collecting.
Changes to the industry have forced the business to shift gears but
the owners insist they are not a pawn shop and New York state law, by definition, does back it up. Pawnshops are required to hold onto items for a certain period of time and offer a buy back program – in other words people put up items as collateral against a loan with the intent of buying it back at a later date.
“Pawnshops deal in everything. Our specialty is in coins, gold, silver and jewelry,” said Naughter. “We’re not in the business of pawning, but we will probably offer a better outright price for those items than a pawnshop will because we know their true value.”
In the end, the biggest changes to the business is the advent of smart phones and computers. Where people would purchase books to find the value of a coin or collectible, now people can reach in their pocket, hop online and Google a 1942 U.S. Walking Liberty 50 cent piece and get an idea of how much it’s worth. And, of course, there is eBay and other online auction shops to buy, swap and trade.
“Old time coin shops have come and gone and some have adjusted to the times,” Demis said.