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Dealing in historical coins is rare gift

February 21, 2008

Dealing in historical coins is rare gift

Todd Imhof ’86 wasn’t planning a career in rare coin dealing when he left PLU with a degree in political science. In fact, he was leaving for New York to work in the banking business at Chase.

Then a friend from high school pulled him aside and told him about a business idea to sell rare coins. Imhof jumped in, begging off Wall Street and opening Hertzberg Rare Coins in Tacoma.

“I found myself intrigued by both the coins and the industry,” he said. “It seemed right to me, so I decided to give it a shot.”

The company grew quickly, and in 1990 was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the fasting-growing small companies in the United States. That same year, he bought-out his partner and renamed the business Pinnacle Rarities, based in Lakewood, Wash., and focused the company on high-end collectors and investors.

“I quickly acquired an appreciation for the history and artistry of coins, and more important, I found I loved dealing with collectors,” Imhof said.

In 1993, at the age of only 25, Imhof became one of the youngest dealers ever accepted as a member of the Professional Numismatists Guild.

In 2005, Imhof made headlines when he purchased, on behalf of a collector, a 1927 $20 gold piece for $1.9 million. It still remains the world-record price for a single-issue coin in a public auction. Since then, Imhof has sold items of greater value, including a large collection for over $15 million.

Currently, Imhof is vice president of Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries. He handles the accounts of Heritage’s high net worth clients, and oversees the company’s transactions involving complex financial arrangements. At Pinnacle, Imhof oversaw about 10 employees and did about $25 million worth of business a year. Heritage has more than 300 employees and does about $700 million a year.

Since relocating to Dallas in 2006, Imhof has been handling other valuables aside from coins. These include John F. Kennedy’s rocking chair from the White House, Buzz Aldrin’s memorabilia from his Apollo moon missions, a Chagall painting and Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War sword – which sold for $1.5 million.

Then there are the items that are also expensive, but as Imhof notes, less serious. Items such as Anna Nicole Smith’s personal diary, which sold for more than $50,000; a lock of Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara’s hair, selling for$100,000; and a rare “Bride of Frankenstein” poster for more than $300,000.

In total, Imhof spent 18 months at PLU. He recalls his college years as one of finding focus, despite a lack of motivation academically.

“I just couldn’t find an area that interested me,” he said. “But I credit a couple of PLU professors for figuring out a way to inspire my learning, including Dick Olufs and Ann Kelleher.”

He also met his wife, Heidi Nuss ’88, at PLU. The couple has three children, Nicholas, 7, James, 6, and Madison, 1.

“Certainly, the historical significance and artistic beauty of many of these coins holds appeal to me,” Imhof concluded. “But it isn’t so much the rare coins themselves as much as it is the tangible assets and business in general that I find interesting.

“Trading precious metals, along with buying and selling very rare and expensive items and working with astute collector-investors is a great job, and I’m fortunate to love what I do.”