Money Winners of 2008: Walter Husak Cashes In on Rare Pennies

Posted Dec 14th 2008 9:40AM by Larry Schutts
Filed under: Deals, Entrepreneurs

Husak cent At one time or another, we have all dreamed of turning pocket change into millions. A California man actually made it happen last February, though, when he sold a collection of 301 pennies for $10.7 million. Of course, they were not just any pennies. The set contained virtually every variety and subvariety of U.S. cent minted in the classic period between 1793 and 1814. Van Nuys resident Walter J. Husak had been assembling his early coppers for 28 years and estimated that they cost him a little over $5 million. That is a lot for a coin collection, but it ultimately netted him a profit of close to $200,000 per year and that is a return anyone can appreciate.

As with any investment-minded collector, Husak was doubtless torn between the desire to put together a complete collection of early cents and the hope that they would increase in value. He chose the path that usually finds the best equilibrium between aesthetic satisfaction and monetary gain by going high end. He acquired attractive specimens in the most advanced grades possible, very often locating the finest known examples of given varieties. That led to ownership of coins like the 1793 and 1794 "about uncirculated" specimens shown below, which sold for $632,500 each. The pictures are from the Husak Collection catalog, produced by Heritage Auction Galleries.

Husak cent Husak began collecting coins at the age of twelve, showing early acumen when he bought six Indian head pennies for $12 and then immediately sold the single valuable piece for $15. He disposed of his early collection to buy a car and make a down payment on a house, but re-entered the hobby in 1980 with the purchase of an 1804 large cent. His aerospace business subsequently prospered, allowing him to pursue all the penny varieties generated by the variable early American coin making process. He managed to acquire all but three, and then hung on to them, sparking feverish demand from an avid collector community that had not seen many of the rare types for years.

Husak cent The need to pay off some real estate debt finally led to Husak's decision to sell and he admitted that he was "scared to death" of losing money on the collection. He need not have been. The Heritage sale represented a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bid on many of the coins, and quite a few realized multiples of previous records. There were no breaks for family members, either. Husak's daughter, Trina, was a bidder and reportedly paid about $20,000 for the two coins she won. Wife Patricia was said to have put the entire experience into perspective by noting that her husband would probably start collecting something else.

Way to go, Walter! Investment-oriented collectors salute you.

Be sure to check out more Money Winners of 2008.

Larry Schutts has invested in high grade collectibles for over twenty years and recently opened an online Collectible Investment Store. He writes a column for BloggingStocks on Collectible Investments.