Man who auctioned coins for $10.7 million got start in Iowa

Cedar Rapids, Iowa (AP) 3-08

Walter Husak’s passion for coin collecting began five decades ago, as a 12-year-old visiting his grandparents in eastern Iowa.

Through the years Husak squirreled away rare Buffalo nickels and Indian head pennies, and eventually his collection included some of the country’s rarest coins.

Last month Husak’s collection proved to be more than a hobby when his 299 large cents sold for $10.7 million at a record-setting auction in Long Beach, Calif.

“I really thought it wouldn’t bring more than $7 million,” said Husak, who lives in Burbank, Calif. “I was very surprised at the incredible prices paid for the coins.”

Husak, 65, invested several years and millions in amassing the collection of “large cents,” or antique copper coins about the size of quarters.

Husak said his collection first began to grow while visiting his grandparents in Cedar Rapids, Mechanicsville and Tipton. He had been collecting Buffalo nickels and Lincoln cents for a year when he bought six Indian head pennies in 1955 from a fellow employee of his father at Merchants National Bank.

Husak said he knew the pennies were worth a nickel or 10 cents apiece, so he gave the man $2 apiece for them.

“I ran home to my grandmother’s house and showed her the pennies,” he said. “She started crying because she was born in 1879 and for her 13-year-old grandson to buy these pennies for $2 apiece was unthinkable.”

After founding an aerospace parts manufacturing company, Husak resumed his hobby in the 1980s. He set his sights on acquiring all 302 varieties of large cents produced between 1793 and 1857.

“I got up to 299 pieces and I just kind of gave up,” Husak said. “I know where the other three pieces are located, but the people don’t want to sell them.”

Husak later decided to sell his collection to pay off some real estate debt. He was “scared to death” of losing money on his coins.

His wife, Patricia, recalled that during the auction’s bidding frenzy last month, as “the figures started to climb, he looked as if he was going to hyperventilate.”

In the end, Husak estimated that he more than doubled his investment.

While he parted with the best of his collection, Husak has not stopped collecting large cents.

“I actually kept duplicates of lesser-quality coins to try to get a complete collection,” he said. “It might take 10 to 12 years, so if I exercise and keep on eating right, I might be able to do it.