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Collector Spotlight: Tony Terranova

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - October 7, 2022

Don’t put Tony Terranova in a box. He might curate his own cabinet of coins, and he may buy and sell coins, but he eschews labels like “collector” or “dealer.” He just is… And what is he? One of the hobby’s foremost experts in Colonial coins, early Federal coinage, pre-1933 U.S. gold, and so much more.

His decades of numismatic expertise trace back to around 1959, when a young Tony noticed that the wheat ears he had grown accustomed to seeing on the reverse of the Lincoln Cent were no longer on new pennies landing in his hands. “It was the first time in my life that I recalled noticing something different about coins. I asked my dad about it, and he said they change designs on coins sometimes.” He also took note when the U.S. Mint removed silver from coinage beginning in 1965. “I really got involved in collecting Buffalo Nickels that came in through my family’s bakery business in the mid ‘60s. I had champagne taste with a beer budget and got involved in buying and selling coins itself around 1971.”

By 1976, a friend of Terranova’s asked him to go into business with him. “I had a pretty good job at the time,” Terranova recalls. “He used to see me at the local New York coin shows. He came in and said, ‘You went to this show… What did you buy?’ And I told him I bought this and sold it for that. And to make a long story short, he held up a calculator and showed me exactly what I was making on the side with coins. I quit my job and went to work with him, and the rest is history.”

Along the way, Terranova became interested in half cents, large cents, and Colonial coins. He remembers, “Nobody really graded Colonial coins back then – they were just sold for a price. And what I was good at was pricing coins. I had good intuition.” Yet, he didn’t rest on his laurels of good business sense. He always kept open ears, open eyes, and an open mind, willing and eager to learn more. “I made my avocation become my vocation. When people ask me when I’ll retire, I always tell them I retired in 1977 when I went into the coin business full time. I took a hobby and paid my bills with it.” One of his many fortes is building prestigious sets. “I built some really good collections along the way, including some magnificent sets of 1796-1807 Quarters, 1794-1803 Dollars, 1795-1807 $5 Half Eagles, 1795-1804 $10 Eagles, and Liberty $10 Eagles.” He also built advanced Colonial variety sets and assisted philanthropic numismatist Joseph Lasser in assembling a set of Colonial coins that he eventually donated to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia. If there’s a coin Terranova hopes to own someday, it’s a Brasher Doubloon. “It always escaped me. I could’ve bought it back when it was $250,000 or $300,000, but I didn’t have the money back then. Today, it’s a $5 million coin. But I’ve owned or had a piece of some pretty good coins over the years – the 1804 Dollar and the King of Siam Proof Set, I had a 1907 Extremely High Relief Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, and I’ve had a rare-date gold coin in every series.” No matter what coin he’s buying, he lives by his own advice. “Buy great coins with great surfaces and great color. Not good – great.” Education is also a key element of his numismatic philosophy. “Teach yourself as best you can. Read books! Read them… Learn all you can about the series you want to collect. Then get acquainted with people who know more than you do.” He adds, “I never stop learning. I learn something new every day.”

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