P.S. with Tyler Rossi '12
Add this word to your vocabulary if you’ve never heard it before: numismatics, the study or collection of coins, paper currency, or medals. Which makes Tyler Rossi ’12 a professional numismatist. After recently graduating with dual Master’s degrees from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, Rossi moved to Chicago and landed his dream job—working with some of the finest ancient coins in the world. Here, he offers a lesson in turning a hobby into a profession and the importance of taking every opportunity as it comes.
Q: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you become involved in numismatics in a professional capacity?
A: First off, there are very, very few colleges that offer numismatics as a major. Most commonly, people get into it either through collecting as a kid or by studying classical history or history of some sort in college. Back in middle school, my dad gave me some U.S. coins, so that’s where it started for me. But now, I’ve moved more specifically into ancient numismatics. When I returned from the Peace Corps, I got a gig writing for CoinWeek through a friend. That led me to my current role working with Shanna Schmidt Numismatics Inc. and Numismatica Ars Classica USA.
Q: What is an average day like?
A: It’s incredibly varied, which I love. Almost every day I get to handle our inventory and any other items that pass through our office. For example, we recently purchased the largest collection of auction catalogs in the world (it’s coming from Greece), which, combined with what Shanna already has, will make ours one of the largest collections of numismatic books and auction catalogs in the world. So, I’ve been cataloging and organizing that. But, most of our business is client representation and auction bidding. Oftentimes, I’ll bid on behalf of a collector in one or more auctions per week; there have been 15 auctions in the past two weeks, so it’s been really busy. We then import the coins, do all the paperwork, and ship them to the clients in the U.S. It’s really cool to be handling some of the nicest coins in the world.
Q: What intrigues you most about coins? Do you find it’s the same for most people?
A: For me, it’s the history, and I would say it’s like that for a large portion of collectors. But for some it’s the design of the coins, for others there’s something about simply collecting. I’m particularly interested in the political importance of coins, their role as propaganda, and what they can tell us about history. For example, why are Roman coins found in India, or what are the sources that tell us Emperor Constantine actually touched this exact coin?
Q: What goes into estimating the value of a coin?
A: For modern coins, the Sheldon (70-point) Coin Grading Scale was developed in 1949 to standardize the grading process, but estimating the value of ancient coins is way more subjective. The main things to look out for and be considered are the level of artistry, historical importance, metal used, and age, but also who struck it and who has owned it in the past. For example, counterintuitively, there are bronze coins that are way more expensive than gold coins. Or, say there are two identical coins of the Emperor Constantine, if one was owned as part of a famous collection, that could increase the value by 10 or 20%.
Q: What advice would you give to someone trying to enter a niche field?
A: Take advantage of your network and any opportunity that comes your way. I got this job through the sister of a friend, and Shanna is friends with my editor at CoinWeek. Furthermore, in this industry, it’s all about the integrity behind your name and reputation.
Q: We have to ask: if you could own any coin in the world, which would it be?
A: I’m a big fan of fourées, which are contemporary ancient forgeries. There are also some really interesting pieces from the Seleucid Empire that would be so cool to own. Though my specialty is in ancient coins, there’s a $50 octagonal gold piece from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition from the early 1900’s thatwould be great to see or own!