© 2021 Innovation Trail
background_fid.png
Money

Gold and silver rush delivers mini-boom for Buffalo coin shop

lou.jpg
Daniel Robison
/
WNED
In 1865, Abraham Lincoln's casket passed in front of the location of Lincoln Coins & Stamps in downtown Buffalo. Hence, says owner Lou Montesano, the store's name.

Coin and stamp collecting are not growing hobbies.  Most of the world’s philatelists and numismatists are in their golden years.

But one small shop in Buffalo that caters to their needs is having a golden moment - thanks to the rising price of precious metals.

Stamps, stamps, stamps

Lincoln Coins and Stamps does not look like your typical brokerage.  Every flat surface is covered with clutter - and that clutter is the merchandise.

Over the decades, the back room has become so piled high with cardboard boxes and trash bags full of envelops, that it can be tough to maneuver in the space.

“Stamps stamps. Stamps, stamps and more stamps,” mutters shop owner Lou Montesano, as he trows through the stacks. 

On the shelves he points to glossy books, packed with postage from almost every era and international service.

In addition to stamps, there are also display cases and file cabinets full of coins and money - some from 1920’s Canada, and others from B.C.-era Rome, etched with images of emperors.

“It’s amazing how many were only rules for a year or two before they were murdered,” Montesano quips.

Old-timers

For the most part, Montesano can tell you what everything’s worth by sight. He’s been assessing the value of old things since he was a boy, when he worked for his father during the Great Depression.

“Back in the 1930’s it was tough times ... one day he bought a bunch of stamps from some nuns, and he just started working with the stamps, rented a little shop,” Monestano says.

For awhile, business rolled in. And the customers, like retired professor and author Irving Tesmer, who has come here for decades, were loyal. 

“Many years ago the store would be crowded with young boys. Now it’s an entirely different situation,” he says. “It’s more the old-timers that have been at it for years, still trying to add that one extra stamp they’ve been looking for 20 years.”

To make his point, Tesmer gives me a hint about how old he is.

“From that very beginning in 1932 I’ve collected ever since,” Tesmer says, laughing. “I’ve been involved with stamp collecting since I was seven years old. So I’ve been at it for over 70 some years.”

Now, Tesmer “works” here. But mostly he hangs out, and looks for a few elusive items that his own collection craves. 

Scraping by

To stay in business, the store can’t rely on the Irving Tesmers of the world, who after all, are paid by the hour to fill the role of customer. Most of the time, there’s only a trickle of business. And most locals just don’t visit this part of Buffalo.

The shop tried along the way to embrace technology to reach a new audience. But Montesano decided selling online was too much of a hassle. 

Instead, he sticks with the formula his father created 80 years ago, understanding that there are some things he can’t control.

“We’ve lost the kids. The majority of the kids, there’s just too much for them to do with computers and everything else. It’s a shame, but that’s life,” Montesano says.

And he also rides whatever waves come his way. These days that wave is the skyrocketing price of gold and silver.

A kid raiding her piggybank might be sitting on treasure: U.S. quarters stamped before 1964 are made of actual silver, and due to rising metal prices are now worth many times more than their face value.

The rush to cash on on that and other metals is offering a small bump to Montesano’s business, as people look to invest in something tangible in an era where financial markets don’t provide much stability.

“Coins are doing really well with the price of silver and gold,” says Montesano. “It’s got people’s interest up.”
 
And on the off-chance that a deeper interest in coin and stamp collecting springs from a visit to sell some quarters?
 
 
“Kids are welcome,” Montesano says. “As long as they’re not little monsters.”

Related Content