Brett Sadonvick, owner of Tucson Coing and Autograph.

Give a little, get a lot
Tucson Coin practices a philosophy of giving to customers and the community

By Theresa Poalucci

Some people just get it when opportunity knocks. Such was the case for Brett Sadovnick when his cousins in LA asked him if he wanted to work at, and learn the ropes, of their business. So after a stint in college the young Sadovnick left the Bronx and headed for sunshine and palm trees.

“I knew nothing about the business of selling and trading coins,” said Sadonvick who is the owner of Tucson Coin & Autograph. “But I knew if I studied and worked hard I could learn about running a small business.”

Sadonvick says he actually learned all the things you should not do as a small business owner from his cousins, but the experience led him to eventually purchase his own coin shop. He also became a coin collector.

“My sister-in-law called me one day and said, ‘when are you going to move to Tucson?’ So I surprised her and moved here,” said Sadonvick with a laugh. He was tired of the traffic, but he had also lost his first wife and he thought a new place to live and work might ease his grief.

He started in Tucson just by dealing in coins, but soon decided that it would be better to have a storefront. He eventually said he got lucky and was able to purchase the building he is currently located in which was once a bank, on the southeast corner of Oracle and Orange Grove.
“This building once was a bank, so it was perfect for me, because it came with a bank vault for security,” he explained.

It starts with giving

“I learned early on that you need to be a part of the community you do business in,” said Sadonvick.
So he started a deal with the food bank. If customers bring in a can of food, he rewards them with a state quarter. If they bring in three cans of food he awards them with a Presidential silver dollar. This has led to a whole lot of food getting donating over the years.

Eventually, Sadonvick decided to start a matching fund program. If any of his customers donates $50 to any of a number of local charities including Casa de los Ninos, Fisher House, the Alzheimer Association, Cancer Society or the Humane Society, he will match the donation. He also offers those customers a special offer in his shop.

“I see this as a win, win, win,” said Sadonvick. The food bank or the community organization gets donations, our costumer’s gift is doubled, and we have happy customers.”

Honesty pays

“I am very proud of the work I have done with the Better Business Bureau (BBB),” said Sadonvick. Tucson Coin & Autograph won as a finalist for the BBB’s prestigious Torch Award.

“It has been my goal to be the best coin shop in Tucson from the start,” he said. “Someone taught me a long time ago, if you leave a little on the table, the next guy gets to eat.”

“In my business the public relies on you for your expertise and your honesty,” continued Sadonvick. “If you make clients happy they tell a few people, but if you make them unhappy they tell everyone.”

The biggest part of Sadonvick’s business is coins. The store’s motto is “A better place to buy and sell.”

Sadonvick has The Coin Dealer’s newsletter on his desk and offers it as a reference to any of his customers who want to sell him a rare coin. Coin prices are primarily driven by collector demand.

“I won’t match internet prices,” he said. “I will give my customers a good deal and I am likely to be in business long after the internet coin dealers have gone out of business — often while owing their customers money.”

What makes a coin valuable

Tucson has one of the largest group of coin collectors per capita in the US. The Tucson Coin Club is Arizona’s oldest continuously active club in the state.

“All dealers start out as collectors,” said Sadonvick. “We understand collectors because we are collectors.“

And collectors know that a rare coin’s value is based largely on how well the coin is preserved. This is why many gravitate toward purchasing new issues from the US Mint and then putting them away, thus keeping them out of circulation and in “mint” condition.

“I had an 1841 dime that was a proof copy that had great value,” explained Sadonvick. “Also of extraordinary value was a silver dollar circa 1892 from the San Francisco Mint that was in proof like condition. Only a handful of these exist making them very valuable to collectors.”

Sadonvick mentioned other finds from over the years, such as a gold coin from the gold rush era, that had been minted by a private company for the US government.

He also showed me some error notes ­— printed money that made it past the inspectors with obvious errors. The most famous of these, according to Sadonvick  is when the US Mint printed a $5 front with $10 backs.

“National bank notes are also popular,” said Sadonvick, who is proud of his Bronx notes, having grown up there.  These notes were charted by the US Government and issued between 1863 and 1935. Among paper money hobbyists, especially in the U.S., these notes are avidly studied and collected. Some were issued in large numbers and remain inexpensive to collectors today. Others associated with rare banks, towns, states and combinations thereof and are quite valuable. A note from Walla Walla, in what was then Washington Territory, sold for $161,000 in a June 2010 sale at Heritage Auctions.
Tucson Coin & Autograph holds an auction from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm on Saturdays. Coins are posted on a wall at a little less than retail. Customers have the opportunity to bid through a silent auction throughout the week. The auction ends Saturday at noon, and the shop becomes crowded as people show up to check their status or make last minute bids.

“It is a lot of fun,” said Sadovnick, mentioning that a lot of customers walk away with some real bargains.

A few words about gold & silver

“Why do people buy gold and silver?” said Sadovnick, mimicking my question. “It has been money for thousands of years, and some people like it. In this economy many people feel it is safest to diversify, and that means more than stocks and bonds ­— it means real estate, collectibles, cash, and many other asset classes. If you are diversified you are covered. Gold especially is like an insurance policy when you need cash."

Gold coins, sold for their melt value are a popular item at the store. A one ounce gold eagle will be sold for the price of gold plus 5.5%.
One ounce silver eagles, which interestingly are minted at West Point, currently sell for a little over $20.

“Where else can you make an investment for $20,” asked Sadovnick. “And if you need the cash, you bring it into the store and you walk out with a check.”
Silver Eagles are considered to be the ideal “gateway” coin for introducing new collectors to numismatics.

Collectibles requires patience

The walls inside Tucson Coin feature signed photographs, as they are in the autograph business as well.
“Signatures have to be authenticated,” said Sadovnick. “There are some that are always worth more, like an Abraham Lincoln or a JFK. But regardless, autographs are a long term investment.”

Sadovnick’s favorite is a Jim Thorpe autograph he got from a young man whose father was a track coach. Thorpe came out to encourage the kids and the coaches’ son had the presence of mind to ask for his autograph.

“I had a lady come in who had a menu from the Hotel del Coronado. She had been there when they were filming ‘Some Like It Hot.’ She grabbed a menu and got many of the cast members to sign it for her, including Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis” he described.
As he tells me the story, Frank Sinatra stares at me from the wall. His autograph firmly scribbled in the corner of his photo.

 All in a days work

“I love what I do,” said Sadovnick, although he said it is tough to explain to someone with an old coin that it is only worth a few cents, because it is so beat up and worn. He does offer free verbal appraisals, as do many of his staff. Whenever possible he says he errs on the side of the customer.
“I had no idea, when I went to work for my cousins all those years ago that it would lead to a life of entrepreneurship. If it had not been for them I might be asking people what they want with their fries,” he said with a grin. “I was lucky to have the opportunity and lucky to share my fortune.”