A rare piece, Wine Company is proud of its family dynamics
Steve Contursi fell in love with coin collecting when he was around 5 years old, and as a young teenager he began buying and selling rare coins for profit.
It was the adventure of searching for these unique pieces, dating from the founding of the United States, that piqued his interest.
“It’s kind of like Indiana Jones,” Contursi, 69, said from his office building overlooking Irvine, Calif.
Now, over five decades later, Contursi, with the help of his wife Seanne Contursi, has created the successful Rare Coin Wholesaler, which helps other collectors and investors find and acquire rare coins worth millions, as well as selling pieces from their own collection. .
What he did as a teenager hasn’t changed drastically from today, but the trades Contursi makes are now worth much more.
“We arbitrate with coin dealers. We just don’t do it for 10 dollar coins, we do it for 100,000 dollar coins and million dollar coins,” Contursi told The Epoch Times.
In 2005, Contursi, who is the CEO of Rare Coin Wholesalers, made history at the time for the largest coin collection purchase – the King of Siam set, which cost $8.5 million. of dollars. He made similar headlines in 2011 when a piece he sold, the 1787 Brasher Doubloon, was later bought by a Wall Street firm for $7.4 million.
The most valuable item in his collection, before he sold it, was the first silver dollar minted by the United States in 1794, which at the time was the most expensive coin in the world, reaching 10 million. dollars. Its historical value is unmatched, as it was forged in the attic of a colonial house even before the founding of the US Mint. Before its creation, America used coins from other countries.
The production of this coin proved to the world the sovereignty of the United States.
Rare Coin Wholesalers and its parent company SL Contursi Inc., which also runs their vineyard and Arrow and Branch store in Laguna Beach, are both family-run. With the exception of a dozen support staff, the businesses are run either by Contursi’s eldest son, Michael, Seanne, or by Contursi himself. The family dynamic has served the business well, says Michael.
“You are the owner. You have skin in the game. Either way, you care a lot about its success,” said Michael, 41, who has been with Rare Coin Wholesalers since 2006.
Seanne manages Arrow and Branch, a name that refers to the eagle on all US coins, which grasps an olive branch in one hand and a handful of arrows in the other. It represents the American idea of peace but preparation for war. Michael is the president of Rare Coin Wholesalers.
Contursi’s daughter, Alexandra, 32, has recently taken on a bigger role in the business, working to expand the Arrow and Branch name and representing the family in discussions with potential clients, both in the coinage and wine industry.
Her youngest daughter, Nicolette, 25, who has lived in Paris for five years, helps source products for the Laguna Beach storefront. The two sisters launched a jewelry line called Chat Noir, which is also on display in the store.
“That’s really what my vision was,” Seanne said. “Not just giving back to the community and presenting something that I thought was maybe missing or appreciated, but doing it with my girls, in turn, is fun.”
Contursi’s other two children, who are not as intimately involved in the business, are Steven, 28, and Carly, 40.
Seanne and Contursi reside in Laguna Beach, where they have lived since their marriage in 1988, about 70% of the time and visit their home in Napa about twice a month.
In the SL Contursi boardroom, hundreds of coin auction catalogs over the years accompany two bottles of Arrow and Branch Cabernet Francs. This is illustrative of his deep experience in the company. This, coupled with market patience, catapulted Contursi’s company into the ranks of the biggest names in the numismatic industry.
“Most of the time, I buy the pieces, without even knowing where I will sell them. And they all end up selling,” Contursi said. “So that’s always been our philosophy.”
Contursi’s passion for coin collecting began at a young age, as did her exposure to running a rare coin store. While attending graduate school in physics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, he was offered a night shift in the parts department of a small jewelry kiosk in a mall.
The owner of this shop eventually offered to sell the business to Contursi so he could start a finds company, which provides items used in the jewelry-making process, such as chains and hoops. His mother loaned him what he says was essentially his savings at the time, $10,000, to buy the business, and his former boss loaned him $2,500. Contursi said he paid them both off within a year and “the rest is history,” he added.
In 1978 Contursi became a partner and executive vice president of the Northwest Territories Gold and Silver Exchange because they needed an expert numismatist to help them expand into rare coins. Then he partnered with a leading silver dollar expert, Wayne Miller, to start Miller-Contursi Inc. in 1981.
Prior to founding SL Contursi in 1991 with Seanne, who also has a background in the coin industry, he worked for the largest US coin retailer at the time, James U. Blanchard and Co, where he head of its rare parts division. .
Going out to dinner with peers gave Contursi his first taste of fine wine, but it was another coin dealer who turned Contursi into a wine collector, which ultimately led to Arrow and Branch.
“He introduced me to Bordeaux and Burgundies and really high-end stuff, which weren’t very expensive then compared to now,” Contursi said. “And I just got addicted.”
“I was drinking gin and tonic and beer, and I said, ‘Well, that’s a lot better and it doesn’t give me as much headache.’ So I fell in love with collecting it.
Contursi remembers negotiating with restaurant sommeliers to buy expensive wines in bulk, knowing they would only increase in value with age. In 1978, he bought his first Bordeaux primeur, that is to say, he bought the wine while it was still aged in barrels. He continued to buy futures until 2005.
So when Contursi was looking for a second home to take her kids to during their school vacations, Napa, the wine capital of the United States, came to mind. He had imagined a beautiful house in the valley with some vineyards nearby, and on the second trip to visit the estates, Seanne and Contursi seemed to have found the perfect spot.
They closed the estate in 2007, which was previously owned by Tony Soter, who is well known in the wine industry for bringing organic farming to Napa Valley and starting Etude Winery.
In March 2008, the Contursi family was faced with a decision.
“What should we do with these grapes? Contursi asked, recalling the conversation from nearly 14 years ago. “I looked at Seanne and said, ‘When will we ever get the chance to make wine? What a concept.’
It was the start of Arrow and Branch. The wine company now plants about 3.5 acres of Cabernet Franc grapes, having purchased the land adjacent to their property in 2012. On average, Contursi said, that averages out to 500 to 600 12-bottle cases of wine each year, ranging from $42 to $225. But when combined with other years harvested, it adds up to around 2,000.
However, it was never about money for Contursi. After 14 years of growing grapes and producing wine, Arrow and Branch is finally making a good profit. Wine quality has always been a priority not only for the Contursis, but also for their winemaker, Jennifer Williams.
“It’s been very rewarding,” Contursi said. “We stuck with the right thing. We didn’t put it in the bottle unless it was what we thought was as perfect as possible.
Today, Arrow and Branch is expanding and building a new winery. The vines were harvested this year, and the objective is to lay the first foundations for a modification of the existing building before the end of 2021.
This winery will have a designated crushing facility, with the capacity to produce approximately 15,000 cases of wine per year, which is only a fraction of what Arrow and Branch does. Contursi plans to lease the space so other wineries can produce their wines at a “premium white-glove winery,” he said.
The trade in rare coins is also changing. While Contursi is still CEO of Rare Coin Wholesalers, his son Michael is helping modernize the company in his role as chairman. Contursi describes it as entering the 21st century.
This means using many modern trading formats and platforms, but it also means renaming the company to focus on the strengths of investing in rare coins.
A growing number of people are seeing the benefits of rare coins at a time of high inflation and fears for government stability, Michael said. These coins are private and portable and have value, derived from historical events and the metals they are made of.
To prove this point, Blackstone, one of the largest investment firms in the world, recently acquired one of two companies responsible for verifying the value of rare coins and other collectibles, known as the National Guarantee. Corp. Most coin collectors use a 70 point scale to determine the quality of an item, with 70 being a perfect uncirculated coin and 1 being an unrecognizable circulating coin.
The best silver dollar of 1794, for example, ranks above 66.
Over the past few years, Rare Coin Wholesalers has reduced its customer base to a few hundred families. He is moving out of the larger wholesaler market, where pieces get lost in the mess, to building close relationships with like-minded collectors who see the value in keeping items for a long time.
“Our goal is to build great relationships with the people we meet in each of our businesses, to work with like-minded people you want in your life, and to let them benefit from what you’ve built. and finding ways to keep growing and evolving and building,” Michael said. “We’re a family of entrepreneurs, so it’s really in our blood.”