black-enterprise-article-cover-v2Kenneth A. Smaltz has always had trouble telling people what he does for a living. While “rare coin dealer” rolls nicely off the tongue, inquiring minds always seem to come back with the same response: “You do what?”

“Becoming a coin dealer wasn’t something that was part of my [career] plan,” says 37-year-old Smaltz, owner of Nissiquogue, New York-based Kenneth A. Smaltz Inc., which sells rare U.S. coins and precious metals. “I sort of fell into it.”

Smaltz’s career path is a lesson in resiliency, hard work, and good luck. In 1984, at age 20, the Queens, New York, native had just been laid off from his job at an electronics company. With only one year at New York University as a business major, he was sent by an employment agency to MTB Banking Corp., a rare coin firm in New York.

Smaltz was offered a job in the shipping department, and was given some words of wisdom by the company’s president, Louis Vigdor: “If you work hard, you can work your way up.” And Smaltz did. “I put in long hours, stayed overnight, sometimes sleeping on the shipping table waiting for deliveries the next morning,” he says.

That tenacity earned him a promotion to the sales department after only 18 months. Smaltz worked at MTB until 1990, a year that marked a turning point in the rare coin industry, he says. “They were laying people off left and right in my company, and the entire sales department was let go.”

Jobless, his savings running low, Smaltz moved to Atlanta’s Hancock and Harwell, a company that sold rare coins and precious metals. (He was recommended for the gig by his old boss, Vigdor.) He was promoted to vice president in charge of sales, marketing, and advertising, but after 18 months or so, Smaltz wanted to get back to “the essence of selling.” He headed to Minnesota-based Asset Marketing, a rare coins company, where he worked from 1994 to 1997.

Though successful, Smaltz wanted to come back to New York, and Vigdor delivered again, directing Smaltz to New World Rarities, then an up-and-coming rare coins and precious metals company. Smaltz met with the company’s owner, Brian Abrams, and the two eventually worked out a dealer-broker relationship that allowed Smaltz to branch out on his own. The 50-50 partnership with New World Rarities, which brings in approximately $25 million a year in sales, has been fruitful for Smaltz, whose firm had sales of more than $7.5 million last year. He manages a staff of four salespeople.

Training: There’s no one route to doing what he does, Smaltz says simply. Everyone, at every level, has to be able to sell, making communication skills paramount.

Salary: Trained salespeople can make upwards of $1,500 to $2,000 a week, but “you have to hit the ground running,” says Smaltz, whose clientele are high-net-worth individuals ranging from the owners of major oil companies to grandmothers looking to buy coins to pass down to future generations.

For your information:

  •  Average cost of Smaltz’s coins: $2,000 Most expensive coin Smaltz has sold: $275,000
  •  Most expensive transaction: Somewhere between $1 million and $1.75 million


Career At A Glance
Keeper Of The Coins by Mark W. Wright



Name: Kenneth A. Smaltz
Age: 37
Occupation: Owner of Kenneth A. Smaltz Inc.
Location: Nissiquogue, New York
Duties: Rare coin collector and precious metal retailer