Oak Park coin shop hopes to cash in with collectors
Harlan Berk opened his Oak Park store last month, offering rare coins and other antiquities. He also has a store in Chicago. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Some nations, such as Egypt, have demanded in recent years that antiquities taken out of the country be returned. But coin dealer Harlan J. Berk said not everything is a national treasure just because it is old.
“Most beautiful, wonderful things are common. Most people just think they’re rare,” he said.
Beck said he feels no guilt about bringing antiquities to U.S. clients because many nations don’t have the resources to care properly for these items themselves.
“By having these little antiquities here, we not only educate ourselves about other cultures, it makes us want to travel to other countries,” he said. “We’re very insulated in the U.S. The more we know about other people and other cultures, the better off we are.”
Besides, Beck said, antiquities have a way of finding their way home. For instance, as the population in China builds its wealth, it’s able to reacquire many items that were sold to outsiders.
Updated: January 15, 2013 1:54PM
OAK PARK — Like many of his clients, Harlan J. Berk was bitten by the collecting bug at a young age.
When Berk was 7, his grandmother presented him with a handful of Indian Head pennies. And like many collectors, he followed his passion by becoming a professional coin dealer.
But unlike many collectors, Berk said, he doesn’t keep the best for himself and pass on the second-best to his customers. He is satisfied with owning desirable objects even for a short time.
“I avoid the disease, but I’m a sick collector,” the author of three books on coins and former president of the Professional Numismatist Guild admitted.
Berk brought his 48 years of expertise to Oak Park in mid-December when he opened Harlan J. Berk Rare Coins at 455 N. Harlem Ave., in the former cafe space at the rear of the former Borders book store location.
Berk also continues to operate his flagship store at 31 N. Clark St. in Chicago.
“It gives us an opportunity to maybe find a new clientele and maybe serve our customers who don’t want to come downtown,” he said. “We want to be a destination.”
His timing of opening the shop at the tail end of the Christmas season may not seem prudent. However, Berk said his is not a seasonal business dependent on the generosity of others but rather on the desires of individuals willing to buy collectibles for themselves.
“A store that deals in serious things that people collect is generally not a Christmas season store because the collectors know what they want, but the wives and children of collectors don’t know what they want,” he said.
Though the shop deals primarily in coins and bullion, it also offers other one-of-a-kind collectibles, including 16th century English pewter; paintings, such as a contemporary Dale Chihuly; and antiquities, including a Tang dynasty porcelain camel statuette.
Though many may be intimidated by the antiquities -- or their price tags -- Berk sells items at a range of prices. For instance, a small ancient Roman glass vase is available for $100, and a Sumerian necklace dated between 2200-1800 B.C. can be bought for $200.
Though his first objective is to make money, Berk hopes the coin shop will come to mean much more to the community. His doors are open for meetings of organizations devoted to art, antiquities and history, and he plans to host events similar to PBS’s hit “Antiques Roadshow.”
“We’re happy to host a meeting and provide refreshments,” he said.
Like Berk, store manager Glenn Carlson started collecting as a youngster. But the former 33-year Marshall Fields sales associate’s learning curve has expanded beyond coins. Fortunately, he said, he shares Berk’s love of history.
“It’s been fun all these years,” Carlson said. “It’s enjoyable, working with things you like, meeting all kinds of other collectors.”