This is a story about an ordinary, working guy, John Jay Pittman and how he made a fortune by collecting classic U.S. gold and silver coins. Pittman, a man of modest means, through instinct, knowledge and sheer force of will, assembled one of the most stunning collections of United States coinage ever assembled. He did it all on a very limited budget. But, because of his foresight, his family will never have to worry about money again. You see, his coin collection was auctioned off for over $30 million dollars.

How he worked his way up

Born in 1913, the oldest of seven children, Pittman learned early on the value of money. At the age of 7 he worked all day in a cotton field with bloodied hands for 10 cents. He didn't have his first pair of new shoes until he was 10. In his formative years during summer break from school he hustled newspapers, rode boxcars, hitchhiked from North Carolina to New York where he worked the docks, in the garment district and became a runner on Wall Street. Pittman realized early in life that it wasn't what one had that was important, material possessions were scarce. Family was what counted, and knowledge was the key to the future. Reading and studying became a passion. His goal of becoming a doctor, like his Uncle, was sacrificed for practical reasons. Medical school was too expensive and would take a long time. He settled on Chemical Engineering. He worked his way through school, mostly waiting on tables. After graduation he soon went to work for Kodak and moved to Rochester, N.Y. in 1936. Six months later he met the love of his life, wife Gehring. They were soon married, happily, for 60 years.

His grandmother got him started collecting

Early in life, after his grandmother gave him a handful of coins, he was bewitched by the lure of history, people, and far-off places. His hobby for coin collecting became a lifelong passion. Gehring understood and eagerly joined in the hunt. Her dedication, the letters she wrote for him, and the places they traveled were threads of the fabric that supported his love of the hobby. When John suggested to Gehring in 1954 that they take a second mortgage on their house to travel to Egypt to buy coins, there was no question in her mind, they were going to Egypt!

$605 Coin Sells for $467,500

At the auction in Cairo, Mr. Pittman bought an 1833 $5 gold piece for $605. In the auction, that same coin brought $467,500! Although this is one of the more sensational success stories of Mr. Pittman's collection, there are numerous others that just boggle the mind. Here are some examples:

  • 1849- D Gold Dollar Bought in 1948 for $13.50 Auction Price- $6,600
  • 1854- P Gold Dollar Bought in 1945 for $7.00 Auction Price- $55,000
  • 1838- D $5 Gold Piece Bought in 1954 for $483 Auction Price $12,100
  • 1859 Complete Proof Set assembled for $1803 Auction Price $387,500

"John was not a wealthy man, except in knowledge," said professional numismatist David W. Akers, who oversaw the sale of the Pittman Collection. "He was one of the smartest people I've ever known, with a wonderful memory, and he was way ahead of his time in terms of knowing which coins to buy. But he was on a definite budget." John Pittman would no doubt be proud to know that his collection of coins set up his family for life. But he collected more for the pure joy of the hobby. History, not profit, was what interested him most. His friends and those who knew him best considered him a prime example of a "good collector." He sought out coins in extraordinarily good condition, he focused on rarity, and insisted that his coins have an interesting history. He proved that the most successful path to rare coin investing is to "Think Like A Collector" first. While not everyone who puts away rare coins today will enjoy the success of the Pittman family, their story is a prime example of how to collect rare coins for fun and profit.