Chasing dreams: Farmington native opens rare coins shop
NILES — When his mentor died, Josh Shaffer thought he’d lost his dream of running a rare coins shop as well.
But one year later, Shaffer, 23, opened his own store on the very site.
“I’d never thought about starting one on my own,” Shaffer said, perched on a stool behind the display counter of Shaffer Rare Coins on state Route 46. “I didn’t think there’d be an opportunity until I was in my 40s. I really didn’t think it would happen this quickly.”
Shaffer merely planned to operate Dave’s Coins, Stamps and Collectibles after owner Dave Follmeyer retired. That was the deal they had talked about while Shaffer hung out nearly daily at the store talking coins and business.
CATCHING THE BUG
The seeds of the dream began when Shaffer, now of Girard, was a kid in West Farmington.
“My dad brought us here — my brothers and I –since we were really young,” he said. “Dave liked teaching us things.
“I started my own collection when I was really little, 7 or 8 or something,” he said. “I would get foreign coins by the pound. It was fun to go through them and see where they came from. They were not worth anything but taking some time to go through them and learn a little bit about the countries … It was fun.
“I hated history in school. I hated it. But once you pair that with coins, I’m for it. It’s been really amazing the history behind the coins,” he said.
For example, in the 1860s, the U.S. Treasury printed fractional currency — small paper bills that was issued in 3, 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50 cent denominations. From his currency collection, Shaffer pulled out a few examples and set them on the display case.
“There was a guy who worked in the treasury department who put his own face on the bills. That’s when they passed a law that you have to be dead before you can have your face on money,” he said.
He also learned things such as dimes, quarter and half dollars minted in 1964 or earlier are 90 percent silver. That makes them worth more.
“Some guy brought in a 1942 Mercury dime he got in change. It’s out there, but you don’t find it too often. I go through my change.”
All pre-1982 pennies are copper, which makes them worth 1 1/2 cents, Shaffer said. Wheat pennies are about 3 cents each.
“That’s how a lot of people get started, wheat pennies, because they’re cheap,” he said.
He pulled one of his favorite pieces from a display box, an 1827 capped-bust half dollar worth $700 to a collector. He found it at a coin show.
“I like the colors. Some call it tarnishing. I call it toning. It gives it like a rainbow glean,” he said, holding it so the sunlight caught the sheen.
The capped-bust series features the head and shoulders of a woman wearing a cloth cap with the word “Liberty” inscribed on the band. They were produced from 1807 to about 1839.
“I collected those before I started the store. I sold a lot of my collection off.”
PLANNING THE FUTURE
Shaffer once cooled on coin collecting.
“In the teen years, I lost interest for a while because…” Shaffer grinned and shrugged. “…there were so many other things to be interested in.”
He said he drifted back into numismatics — the study or collection of currency — when he was around 15, and started buying and selling coins when he was about 17.
“When we could drive, my older brother Kenny and I would come there three times a week,” Shaffer said.
When he began studying for his business administration degree from Youngstown State University — he graduated in December — he moved to Warren and showed up at Dave’s Coins practically every day.
“He would show me the financial stuff, the monthly expenses,” Shaffer said. “He would talk to me about how to run a business. He would never sugarcoat anything. He said it’s a tough business but you can make a decent living if you do it right.”
Shaffer began his own online coin trade on Instagram, and now has about 2,500 followers.
Finally, Follmeyer set up a timeline for his retirement, with Shaffer assuming the business. “That had me real excited, obviously.”
A couple months later, on April 2, 2017, Follmeyer died. The shop was closed and the storefront remained empty.
Shaffer tried to settle himself in a housing appraisal company.
“It was great experience, but it was not something I wanted to do over the long term,” he said. “I really had a passion for coins. I’ve got a one-track mind.”
CHASING THE DREAM
He couldn’t shake the dream.
“Last November, my wife and I started praying about things,” he said. “God opened a lot of doors for us. He made it clear that this was where I was supposed to be. Everything fell into place.”
Shaffer took over the lease in the building in January. He and brother Kenny spent time remodeling. He opened Shaffer Rare Coins on April 2, the one-year anniversary of his mentor’s death.
“It’s been a lot better than I anticipated,” he said. “I envisioned it as slow for the first couple of months, the first year. But since this was Dave’s shop, they come in. I’ve been blown away with how busy it’s been.”
His mother, Lee Ann Shaffer of West Farmington, said, “Josh has always been passionate about his loves all his life. Whether it was basketball or bug collecting, he pursued it with abandon. So when he became interested in coin collecting, it’s no surprise that he was all in.
“We encouraged each of our (four) boys to develop their individual God-given talents and interests, and Josh’s determination to start this business was not uncharacteristic for him,” Lee Ann Shaffer said.
“I credit his lovely wife (Andrea) with encouraging the pursuit of his dream. I have told him that he is blessed to have a woman who believes in him and gives her blessing to this venture,” she said.
“I am so proud of him for having the courage to turn a huge loss into an exciting opportunity, and not allowing fear of failure to dissuade him,” Lee Ann Shaffer said.
TIPS FROM THE NUMISMATIST
Josh Shaffer said most customers are casual collectors, such as people buying the newest proof set of that year’s minted coins for their grandchildren, or people selling scrap jewelry. There are a only a few serious collectors, but enough.
“Starting out, I had to buy a lot online or at coin shows,” he said. “Now people bring them in to me and sell them to me. I find it crazy that people have these things. I don’t really buy much online anymore.”
His advice to people starting out: “Invest in silver, like silver quarters or Morgan dollars, rather than wheat pennies, which are cheaper and well-known.”
Morgan dollars — silver dollars designed by U.S. Mint engraver George T. Morgan and minted from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921 — are plentiful, which makes them one of the easiest to collect. Nicer coins sell for $35 to $50 each, and the more worn-down coins ones are about $20, he said.
Also, don’t rely on so-called collectors’ editions. The collector series of quarters featuring all 50 U.S. states are worth about 25 cents each — face value, he said.
As for his advice about pursuing one’s dreams — do it.
“A couple of people told me I’m crazy, don’t do it now,” he said. “It may not be the easiest thing to do, but really, in the end, it’s definitely worth it. I love what I do now.
“It’s amazing that I’m doing what I’ve always dreamed of,” Shaffer said.