By Muhammed EI-Hasan
When Peter Yeung was about 10 years old, his cousin gave him a rare coin.
That helped spark a passion for coins that lasts to this day.
Yeung, 40, is president and co-owner of Torrance coin trader Panda America.
The Torrance resident has owned the shop with his partner, Kitty Q,uan, since 2005.
Growing up in Pasadena, Yeung would visit his local bank to exchange dollar bills for rolls of pennies. Then he would sift through the piles of pennies in search of valuable coins, using a collector's book as a reference.
He would return the ordinary pennies to the bank for bills and keep the more valuable coins. The next day, he would return to the bank to exchange the bills for more pennies.
By ninth grade, Yeung was working part time at a coin shop. His passion led him to skip school on many Fridays. He started traveling to coin shows in Las Vegas and New York.
When Yeung was 16, he and his cousin started their own mail-order coin business. But they did not have a big enough budget to make a big splash.
After high school, Yeung worked at various coin shops including Panda America before purchasing the Torrance business.
What does your job entail?
We buy and sell old and new coins. I manage the day-to-day operations. I'm the rare coin expert in the place. We buy estates, collections, just about any coin that is of value. Most everyone has in their household a jar of pennies or some old coins from their grandfather. And they bring them in for valuation.
What is the most valuable coin you've ever found?
It was worth about $50.
What's the most expensive coin you've ever sold?
I don't remember, but I think it was about $100,000, give or take.
What challenges do you face?
Helping all the government mints around the world sell as many coins as possible. Each country issues more and more variants of coins. It's like car manufacturers. They don't want to sell just one model. They want to sell many models.
What foreign country mints the most popular coins?
China. They're the most popular, and they have the best long-term value. They have a growing population and a very large collecting base. The Chinese are savers in general. Collecting stamps and coins is a huge hobby in China.
They've got a large secondary market to keep the values.
What are the most popular coins you sell?
The commemorative coins for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And the surprising thing is we're gettin more interest from Americans than from Chinese.
I think it has to do with the fact that with just about every business, the future is China because of their growth potential. And these coins make wonderful personal and corporate gifts.
Who are your customers?
Mostly people in their mid-30s and up. Collecting coins has always been referred to as a king's hobby in the old days. Traditionally, it's been doctors, lawyers, people with high incomes. Now we're finding a lot of people who are middle income. Because of the explosion of the Internet, it has made collecting coins a lot easier.
What's your favorite coin?
It's a U.S. coin from 1796, a $2.50 gold piece.
What's so special about it?
It's got a very interesting portrait. And it's one of the few coins of that period that didn't have the 13 stars around it.
What's the best part of your job?
Having people bring coins that they thought had no value and having me tell them it's of great value. Once in awhile, it's like telling people they've won a small lottery. It's satisfying to be able to help people.
What's the worst part of your job?
The opposite of that. Telling people their coins are not worth anything, that their pennies are just regular pennies.
Do you still get excited about coins?
Yes. When a special hoard of coins comes up, it's like finding buried treasure.
What else do you collect?
I collect junk because I never throw anything away.
My first expensive computer from 15 years ago. My first laser printer.
Where do you keep it all?
It's in public storage. I just visited the storage a few days ago. I've got like five old computers there. That's the problem with being a collector. You never throw anything away.