John Jay Pittman was a man of ordinary means who lived in Rochester, New York, with his wife and three children. He was born in North Carolina in 1913 and moved to Rochester in 1936 to work for the Eastman Kodak Company, a job he held for most of his life.
Pittman pursued numismatics with a passion. He was active in local, state, and regional coin clubs. He read hundreds of books about rare coins and studied the subject with fervor. He eventually became president of the American Numismatic Association (ANA).
Lessons from John Pittman
John Jay Pittman’s story demonstrates that you don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy the great hobby of numismatics. He was a man of humble beginnings and modest means, working hard to pay his bills and raise a family. In fact, he lived in the same small home in a mostly blue-collar neighborhood from the late 1930’s, until his death in 1996. His wife of over 50 years taught mathematics in the public school system.
Pittman’s collection contained none of the so-called classic rarities, such as the 1804 Dollar or 1913 Nickel. A working man could never have afforded these “trophy coins.” Instead, he concentrated on coins he felt were underappreciated and true rarities in their own right.
The Payout of a Lifetime
After John Jay Pittman died in 1996, a series of auctions were conducted from 1997 to 1999 to disperse his lifetime accumulation of rare coins. The total proceeds from these auctions exceeded $30 million. A little known fact about the Pittman collection is that his original investment was less than $75,000. John Jay Pittman was truly the consummate collector.
COIN PURCHASED PAID PRICE REALIZED
1822 Proof Quarter Dollar 1948 B. Max Mehl $42 $110,000
1852 Proof Quarter Dollar 1953 B. Max Mehl $50 $176,000
1839 Proof Half Dollar 1961 Kreisberg $725 $132,000
1846 Proof Set Complete 1949 Kosoff $750 $522,500
1833 Proof Half Eagle 1954 King Farouk $562 $550,000
Pittman’s timing, knowledge, and willingness to take educated risks paid off
in a collection that ultimately realized over $30 million.