All things, eventually, become an object of the past. Nations rise and fall, and take their secrets to the grave, but they leave clues behind. A clever person can use these clues to unravel the secrets of a time long since faded from memory. One such collector of antiquities, Paul Brandonburg, operates Tristate Coins and Firearms on Route 26 in Millville. His store, which used to be located just down the road, next to the Fat Tuna Grille, is now located across the street from Millville Pet Stop, next to Beachview Chiropractic Center.
Within the walls of his shop, one can enjoy browsing an extensive collection of coins and firearms spanning from modern to marvelous. Some are familiar, while others only faintly resemble what would be recognized as their equivalent today.
“I’ve always enjoyed collecting coins and guns,” explained Brandonburg. “We opened a store in the Salisbury Mall, where we operated for three years. Then I moved here to Ocean View, where I had a store for seven years. But I fell. I hurt my elbow and shattered my knee, so I had to close down for a bit. Now I’m re-opened, and relocated.”
The collection at Tristate comes from a variety of locations. Brandonburg said, “I purchase merchandise from patrons who come in to sell. I also buy things online, and I go to coin and gun shows. I use any avenue I can find to track down items. If somebody wants something that I don’t have, I’ll try and locate it for them.”
“My previous store was twice the size of my current one,” he noted, “so I can’t have as much merchandise in the store; but I’m always happy to take special orders. The new store is a little out of the way, and you have to look a bit, but we’re friendly here. I have lots of people who stop in just to chat. I get younger kids who come in to look at coins; they save up their allowance to buy a neat old penny or something.”
“I also do appraisals on coins and guns.” Brandonburg added. “There are several books and magazines that help you determine prices. I sell a few books on coin collecting, here in the shop. I can also direct people how to subscribe to other literature.”
While most of the items for sale at Tristate are familiar, some more closely resemble art.
“I’ve had ancient coins way back to the time of Christ, all the way up to now,” Brandonburg said. “I handle mostly U.S. currency, although I have had a few foreign coins, as well as some currency. I have two Colts from the Civil War era, a Remington rifle from the Civil War era, a World War I long gun, as well as a World War I French bayonette. Mostly I deal in more modern items, though. I have a gunsmith that works with me and does repairs, so everything in the store is functional.”
Even among the U.S. coins there are a few surprises. Brandonburg points out that, “People don’t realize, we had a large one-cent piece, there was a two-cent piece, a three-cent piece, a 20-cent and a 50-cent at one point. You can follow the dates on the coins and see how they’ve changed. The penny, for example, was changed in 1909 from the Indian-head to the wheat-back. Somewhere around 1959, they changed it again, to the Lincoln penny. You can trace history through a good collection of coins.”
Collecting is more than just a hobby, though. For the clever collector, the sport can prove quite lucrative.
“For the most part, you really can make money off collecting,” said Brandonburg. “It’s a much better investment than the stock market. If you had a rare 1909 penny 20 years ago, it might have been worth a hundred or two, now that same penny is worth a thousand or two. The more rare coins really appreciate fast. For a long time, people melted down silver dollars, so they’re scarce and would be worth more. It’s all dependent on how many of that particular coin were minted.”
While collecting coins doesn’t attract much attention; having guns on hand is a bit more of a controversial topic.
Brandonburg explained, “People in this country want to own a gun for both fun and protection. I’ve had local, state and federal police in my business, and we all agree that the criminal is always going to be able to get a gun. It’s not right, or fair, to make it hard for an honest person to own a gun, whether it’s an AK-47, an AR-15 or just a pistol.”
Gun control has long been a heated topic, and many argue that some of the weapons available for purchase are extreme.
“Some people ask why you need to have a semiautomatic weapon, because you don’t hunt with them,” said Brandonburg. “Well, no, you can’t take them hunting, but they’re still fun to shoot. Is there anything wrong with someone wanting to enjoy themselves? I get a lot of police coming through – they buy and sell through me; but if they come in for information, such as trying to trace a gun, I’m here to help.”
It’s a simple process to get involved in collecting. There are a number of resources available. The library is always a good place to start, although Brandonburg also has a few suggestions.
“Get up with a coin dealer, do research online, or just ask questions,” he advised. “Anyone who really enjoys collecting is more than happy to talk with other people about their collections.”