With roots in wholesaling, coin retailer adds Reno store
The concept sounds like something devised by a zen master: Alan Rowe trades rare items in large quantities.
But it’s worked just fine for Rowe, owner of Northern Nevada Coin.
The company, now in its 17th year, just opened its second retail location, a shop in Reno’s Airport Square shopping center, where it’s just around the corner from the Costco store on Plumb Lane.
Northern Nevada Coin has been operating a high-profile retail location at 601 N. Carson St. that’s right across the street from the historic Carson City Mint building – since 1998.
Those stores are just the surface for Northern Nevada Coin, which employs about 20 people.
The company got its start, Rowe says, as a wholesaler of rare and collectible coins, and that continues to be a significant part of its business.
Rowe travels to major coin shows around the nation most recently, the Baltimore Expo with its five days of auctions buying large lots of rare coins.
The wholesale side of the business, one of the largest of its type on the West Coast, serves boutique independent retailers as well as the mass-market coin retailers whose flashy national advertising move collectible coins by the bagful.
It’s a business that demands careful attention, Rowe says, because two factors drive coin prices the precious metals markets as well as the underlying collectible value of coins.
To manage some of the risk, Rowe plays the market only one way.
“We have to be merchants, not speculators,” he says. (The company also brokers gold and silver bullion, turning a profit on the spread between bid and asked prices.)
Northern Nevada Coin manages the risks of the rare coins marketplace, too, by specializing in a niche that it knows very well silver and gold coins produced by the Carson City Mint during its operation from 1870 to 1893 although its catalog carries other American gold and silver coins dating from the Colonial era to the present.
It’s not a business, however, where one can rely on book learning.
“It’s mostly a peer-taught business,” says Rowe, who began collecting coins as a kid, worked his way through the University of Nevada, Reno, as a coin-trader and launched Northern Nevada Coin in 1993.
As an example of the tuition he paid in the School of Hard Knocks, Rowe tells about a counterfeit dime supposedly collectible for which he paid $3,000 early in his career.
Its actual value? Something less than 10 cents.
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