Yosef Baker keeps a pruta from Yehudah Aristobulus in his wallet. Yosef has no intention of spending this 2200-year-old Judean coin; rather, the owner of BSD Coins carries it as a conversation piece that bridges two of his favorite subjects: numismatics and ancient history.
As a young child, Yosef became fascinated by things that were old, from 18th-century recreated villages and antique shops to archaeological sites and ancient artifacts. Their history and the story they told captivated his imagination. Eventually that interest found its way into coins. When he was 8 years old his grandfather showed him his collection of old silver dollar coins he had stowed away. It would take another year of begging until, on his ninth birthday, his grandfather allowed him to choose one coin from the large bag. The hunt for coins had begun.
That first coin Yosef received from his grandfather was a 1921 Morgan dollar. Conditionally graded to about “extremely fine” and estimated to only be worth about $15 today, it still places as a centerpiece in his personal collection. Another early addition to his collection was a 1937 Buffalo nickel in “very fine” condition. A classmate had brought it to school to show it off. “The buffalo on the reverse seemed so cool that I felt I really wanted to have one as well,” said Yosef. It would be his first coin bartering experience, and one that began a truly fun journey that he continues to this day.
As elementary school continued, Yosef devoured coin and money magazines, dreaming of “all the cool coins that I would love to own in the future.” In fifth grade his biggest influence emerged. Rabbi Reidel from Yeshiva of Spring Valley became his older brother’s seventh-grade rebbe. As incentive to his students, he would offer old coins and paper money for those whose behavior and actions deserved them. The pool of known coin collectors went from five or six in his class to over 25 kids, many of whom had brothers in Yosef’s grade. Much bartering and upgrading went on over the next two years until Yosef developed quite an extensive collection. While Rabbi Reidel did not end up as Yosef’s teacher in the seventh grade, the two did develop a relationship as both shared a passion for coins. Years later Yosef went back to YSV to thank Rabbi Reidel for his kindness and encouragement.
By the time Yosef was midway through high school, he had came to an understanding. “I realized I could buy and sell coins, have lots of fun and make money doing it,” he said. And that’s just what he did by traveling to coin shows around the country.
The self-taught Baker ultimately decided to open BSD Coins in 2007 at the age of 19. He chose the name—in Hebrew, Beit Samech Daled (for BSD= B’Siyata Dishmaya), which means with the help of Heaven—in order to remember that God is in charge of things and as a reminder to conduct himself in an ethical and moral way.
While much of Baker’s business is online these days, he still travels around the country to all major shows. Searching through tens of thousands of coins per show, he hunts for coins he believes have good value or coins his clients have requested. When not at shows, he spends much of his day viewing online auctions and dealer websites. What’s he looking for? “Other than hunting for more coins, I am constantly monitoring market trends and pricing premiums to have the most knowledge possible when evaluating my next purchase.”
So what exactly makes a coin valuable? Baker notes there are four things. The first is rarity. How many of a particular type of coin were either minted or have survived plays a large role in its valuation. The second is the condition. The sharpness of the strike of a coin, the eye appeal and the amount of wear all help contribute to the condition. The better the condition, the higher the value. The third is the metallic content. Gold and silver are heavily traded commodities by themselves; coupled together with a highly collectible item helps create more interest. The fourth and most important factor is demand. A coin can have a mintage of five coins or less for a particular date or series, but if there are not five or more people vying for the same coins the value can only go so high.
In addition to going to coin shows and scouring online auctions, BSD Coins buys and sells coins with the public. Baker provides a free appraisal service which comes with a “no obligation” buy offer. “One never knows what they will find on the hunt. I am always glad to travel to people’s homes, evaluate a collection and make an offer” said Baker.
Baker, a Fair Lawn resident who works out of a small rented office, is now 30 years old and his passion for coins remains. “I’m blessed to be able to do something professionally that I love doing. Handling coins and even looking at them brings out the kid in me,” he said.
It’s not the value of coins that necessarily excites Baker. Instead, it’s the history. While the coins he dreams of owning have changed over the years, it’s ancient Judean coins and the history behind them that mean the most to him. The Talmud talks extensively about different types of coins used in both daily commerce as well as temple service. Being able to buy and sell actual Machatzis Hashekel’s (half shekel) (or other denominations) for Yosef is a dream come true. “To be able to say that this coin was used inside the Beit Hamikdash to buy either a Korban or to be used for some other temple service: What could be more fascinating than that?”
This passion and wonder is what Yosef tries to share with children when he sets up displays at schools or at a show. While Baker recognizes that children these days are primarily centered on all things tech related, he stirs their interest in coins by showing them some of the same coins that got him interested in the hobby. He even pulls out the pruta from Yehudah Aristoblueus and lets students know that they, too, can hold real Jewish history in their hands.
By JLNJ Staff