Downtown Shop Gets 'Back to Basics'

The last remaining full-service coin-and-stamp dealership in downtown Los Angeles is having a grand opening in a new location--only a block from where it had been situated since 1968 and not much farther from where it opened in 1947.

Century Stamp & Coin Co. has seen good times and bad since its inception right after World War II. Currently, times are good, and the family-owned enterprise has decided to move into custom-designed quarters at 509 W. 6th St., making it not only the oldest downtown coin store but also the newest.

Family Business

Brothers Ray and Stan Lundgren founded the firm, which is now run by David Griffiths, who married Ray's daughter, Barbara, and whose children, Shelley and Todd, now participate in the third-generation operation. Griffiths has been in the business since 1961, giving Century continuity and stability.

Since the '50s and '60s, downtown Los Angeles has lost about 20 dealerships. Some dealers have retired, some have died, and others have moved to trendier locations, such as Beverly Hills. Century alone has remained, and the obvious question is why.

"To me," Griffiths said, "it's just tradition. We like dealing with the public and we like downtown because there are a great number of people here. And, of course, we want to remain loyal to our customers who have remained loyal to us."

Griffiths is a life member of the American Numismatic Assn., a member of the Silver Dollar Round Table, a Numismatic Guaranty Corp. dealer, a member of the American Numismatic Exchange and other trade and industry organizations. His company purchases large estates and coin and stamp collections. He's also involved in appraisals and investment planning. As such, he has a sound overview of trends in the coin business.

"Certified grading services are in the forefront right now," Griffiths said. "As a result, the American Numismatic Exchange came about, similar to the stock market, with bid and ask prices on certified coins. There are 150 market makers--we're one of them--in addition to major brokerage houses getting involved to the tune of $40 million to $100 million in limited partnerships. Suddenly, this has become big business.

"But personally I still prefer the collector to the investor. And I'm going back to the collector, especially in this new location. We have to get back to the basics and give more time and guidance to the collector and less time to the pure investor.

"The people who make money in numismatics will take 20 years to build a collection--maybe invest $50,000 during that time. If done properly, you might be able to sell it for $1 million. That's the way to do it. You build a collection with a plan in mind. I'm not saying investors can't make money. But buying 100 or 500 silver dollars is a very risky investment, in my opinion.

"Personally, I prefer raw (uncertified) coins, but the younger generation seems to prefer certified coins. We deal in both at Century, although collectors still lean toward raw coins--if they do their homework. I was fortunate when I started. I did my homework and I had some great teachers."

Century can be reached by telephone at (213) 626-4027 or (800) 234-CENT.

Question: How valuable is my 1886 dime? --D.E.

Answer: Your dime is a Liberty seated type. Chances are it's worth from $3 to $25, depending upon condition. If it has an S mint mark (located on the reverse below the wreath), it can be worth considerably more. High-grade specimens and mint-state proofs can be worth more than $500.

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