Littleton Coin Company Inc.
Littleton Coin Company Inc.
1309 Mount Eustis Road
Littleton, New Hampshire 03561-3734
Telephone: (603) 444-3571
Toll Free: (800) 645-3122
Fax: (603) 444-0121
Web site: http://www.littletoncoin.com
Incorporated: 1945 as Littleton Stamp Company
Sales: $84 million
NAIC: 452998 All Other Miscellaneous Stores Retailers (Except Tobacco Stores)
Based in the small town of Littleton, New Hampshire, Littleton Coin Company Inc. is a privately owned coin dealer, serving coin collectors from around the world through catalogs and the Internet. The company offers a wide variety of coins, from U.S. pennies of the early 1800s costing $55 to ancient Roman gold coins with a price tag of more than $10,000. Littleton also sells rare coins, which have been out of circulation for an extended period of time, were part of small mintages, or possess an abnormality. The 1856 Flying Eagle cent, one of the rarest of all U.S. coins, can be purchased from Littleton for $21,900. The company also deals in U.S. paper money, including Confederate notes, and money from dozens of companies around the world. In addition, Littleton sells coin collecting books and videos albums, coin holders, display frames, magnifiers, other supplies, and a variety of gifts and novelties; and operates several collector clubs for U.S. coins, world money, and ancient coins. The company also buys coins and paper money, having spent more than $200 million since 1945. Littleton is owned and operated by its founder Maynard Sundman and his son David. Another son, Don Sundman, heads a sister company, Mystic Stamp Company of Camden, New York.
FOUNDER DEVELOPS PASSION FOR STAMPS: 1927
Maynard Sundman was born in Bristol, Connecticut, in 1915, the son of a salesman. At the age of 12, in 1927, he was visiting a friend. Rain forced them inside, and to bide the time his friend brought out his stamp collection. Sundman was enthralled and when his parent came to bring him home, all he could talk about were the stamps. According to his recollections 75 years later, he never stopped talking about stamps. He soon sent away for a selection of stamps from one of the companies that advertised in the popular magazine American Boy. However, more than the stamps themselves, Sundman became fascinated by the stamp company ads and mail-order operations in general. He was constantly sending away for free offers and catalogs, disappointed on days that brought no mail. In high school he began nurturing the dream of starting up his own mail-order stamp company. Shortly before high school graduation, in May 1935, he wrote to the H. E. Harris Stamp Company, the largest stamp wholesaler in the world. In his letter to request a wholesale catalog, Maynard wrote that he had saved $400 in order to start his own business and wanted to know if he could make a "good start." Receiving encouragement from the wholesaler, Sundman set up shop in his parents' home and launched the Maynard Sundman Stamp Company, placing his first ad in the "Trading Post" section of Stamps Magazine, giving away several foreign postage stamps—charging two cents for shipping—as a way to build a customer mailing list.
Sundman's stamp company slowly grew, and soon he hired four women to assist him in fulfilling orders, with his parents also chipping in. After a year he was established enough to receive credit from H.E. Harris Company. After four years he was meeting with Henry Ellis Harris himself, the most influential man in the stamp business. Harris had launched his own company at the age of 14, by 18 was traveling to Europe to cultivate contacts, and was still just 37 years of age when he summoned young Sundman to his Boston offices. There he offered a partnership arrangement in which Sundman would receive a line of credit, help with marketing and advertising, and access to the name of customers responding to Harris's own advertising. For his part, Sundman was to put up $3,500 in good faith money. With the help of his father, Sundman raised the money and joined forces with Harris, becoming the fourth of what would become known as the "Big Five" stamp companies, all of which relied on Harris as their stamp supplier. Another of the big five would be the Mystic Stamp, a name suggested by Harris because he had always been fascinated by the name of the Mystic River.
SUNDMAN ENTERS ARMY: 1941
Harris became Sundman's active mentor and business partner, reviewing the ads Sundman placed in such publications as Boys Life, Tip Top Comics, and Young America. Sundman also relied on Harris's printing services. In 1941 Sundman also gained a life partner, marrying Fannie Kasper, who shared his enthusiasm for the stamp business. Their mutual dream of running a stamp company would have to be put on hold, however, when shortly before the United States became involved in World War II in December 1941 Maynard was called to active duty in the army. He served with a military police company for the next four years and had to liquidate his stamp inventory. While he was away, his wife worked as a dress buyer and built up their savings account to more than $4,000, money they planned to use to start a fresh mail-order company, one that did not rely on his parents' kitchen table. Moreover, they wanted to set up shop in a small New England town. Hearing about New Hampshire's North Country, he dispatched Fannie to take the train to visit the communities in the area. She was immediately won over by the small shoe-and-lumber-mill town of Littleton, not only because of its mountain setting and friendly residents, but also the town's unusually large post office, a major asset to a mail-order operation. In time, this post office would have to hire extra people to process the extra mail that would be addressed to the town's new stamp company.
With the war over, Sundman was discharged in the fall of 1945, and within a matter of days Fannie was showing him Littleton. They soon rented a pair of rooms above the Tilton Opera Block for office space and secured a one-room apartment. They called the new business the Littleton Stamp Company, a name not embraced by Harris but one that connoted the quality the Sundmans wished to convey: small town honesty. The first ads were placed in December, and with four employees, operations began in earnest in January 1946. The Littleton Stamp Company began to enjoy steady growth. In the spring of 1947 Sundman took the first step toward the coin and paper money business when he began offering foreign banknotes.
We've been making collecting fun and easy for collectors since 1945. Our goal is to provide collectors with the largest selection of coins and paper money in the widest range of grades, along with useful collector supplies and accessories—all of it backed with friendly, knowledgeable and dependable service.
By the fall of 1950, employment at Littleton had grown tenfold, from four to 40, and the company was about to enjoy even stronger growth, due primarily to Sundman's innovative approach to advertising. Taking advantage of the public's morbid fascination with Adolf Hitler, he developed an ad that offered as a premium a set of Bohemia-Moravia stamps that featured ten different pictures of Hitler. More importantly, Sundman did not limit himself to advertising in the usual publications that carried stamp ads, instead turning to newspapers and comic books to attract a host of new customers. To meet demand Sundman had to hire 20 new full-time employees in 1950 and 1951, during which time he exhausted the world's supply of the Hitler stamps. Also remarkable was Sundman's ability to keep his new advertising strategy from gaining the notice of his rivals, who were mostly located in the Northeast. The campaign was rolled out from West to East, so that it escaped the attention of the other stamp companies; not so H.E. Harris, who could not help but notice Littleton's rising sales at a time when the industry itself was in a slump because of the Korean War. After learning what Sundman had been up to, he passed on the information to the other members of the "Big Five," who soon began to emulate the Littleton strategy. Maynard was far from pleased with Harris's indiscretion, leading to a temporary breach between the long-time partners. It would be repaired, however, as Maynard realized that he could not keep his national advertising a secret for much longer, and he took pleasure in having secured thousands of new customers in the previous two years.
Maynard had long recognized the compatibility of stamp and coin collecting and had made some periodic banknote and coin offers. In 1954 he formally expanded into the coin business, changing the company's name to The Littleton Stamp & Coin Company. He scraped by, but lacked a reliable coin supplier, and that changed in 1960 when a young Montreal dealer named Max Yas sent Maynard a list of coin sets and single coins he had available. Sundman bought the entire inventory, thus establishing a prosperous relationship between the two men that would last 25 years.
The coin business proved successful enough that in 1964 Littleton hired its first full-time buyer. Also in that year, the company emerged as the largest postal customer in the region. To keep pace with business Littleton moved its 70 employees into newly leased facilities, replacing the offices that had taken up the entire third floor of the Opera Block, as well as three additional offices the company had been forced to rent in a building across the street.
While the Maynards were busy growing the stamp and coin business, they were also raising three sons: David, born in 1948, Rick in 1950, and Don in 1954. Their father would instill in them the love of collecting and the thrill of discovering rarities. He brought home bags of coins for the boys to sort through, giving them 10 percent of the book value of any rare coin they found. By the time he graduated from high school David had become something of an expert in cataloging coin characteristics, or "attributing." Upon graduation from Gettysburg College with a degree in history, he hoped to join the family business, but his father thought it wiser that the young man first gain business experience elsewhere. So, David spent the next two years working as an assistant supervisor for a small retail fashion chain. In the meantime, Littleton moved into a newly constructed headquarters, a 19,000-square-foot facility to accommodate the firm's 90 employees and the mailing of more than 300,000 catalogs each year. David Sundman finally joined his father in August 1972.
MYSTIC STAMP COMPANY ACQUIRED: 1974
A second son, Rick, joined Littleton in 1974, and was instrumental in growing the coin business, especially in the area of coin shows, although he would eventually strike out on his own to pursue other business interests. The youngest son, David, would carry on the father's interest in stamps. He had been a child with an entrepreneurial spirit. At the age of 12 he borrowed $1,000 from his father to start an aquarium and tropical fish retail business, running it out of his bedroom. In about 18 months he was able to pay off the loan. In 1974 Maynard Sundman was presented with an opportunity to purchase his old-time rival, the Mystic Stamp Company, but he said he would only do so if Don agreed to run it. The youngest agreed and took over as president, despite being just 19 years of age. In about a year he succeeded in tripling sales at Mystic.
By the mid-1970s Littleton was doing more business in coins than in stamps and the gap continued to grow. In the 1980s Littleton sold its stamp inventory to Mystic, which under the leadership of Don Sundman had emerged by the end of the decade as the United States's largest stamp company. After selling off its stamps, Littleton shortened its name to Littleton Coin Company. In 1985, the 70-year-old Maynard Sundman turned over the presidency of Littleton to David, but he was hardly ready for retirement and continued to come into the office every day.
- Littleton Stamp Company founded by Maynard Sundman.
- Name changed to The Little Stamp & Coin Company.
- David Sundman joins father.
- Sundman buys Mystic Stamp Company, which later buys Littleton's stamp inventory.
- David Sundman assumed presidency.
- Company moves into new 65,000-square-foot headquarters.
- Addition of 20,000 square feet added to the headquarters.
The 1980s was a period of intense interest in coins as a form of speculative interest. Littleton established its own investment division to participate, and although it was able to make money, the unit was ultimately shut down. The disreputable nature of the trade, in which the quality of coins were regularly misrepresented, did not hold much appeal to the Sundmans, who would ban the use of the word "investment" in their sales material. "When you promise something, you want it to be true," David Sundman told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992. "What we promise is people are going to have fun. That's something we can deliver." In the meanwhile, many of the silver dollars and other U.S. coins that enjoyed a spectacular rise in value in the 1980s came to a crash by the end of the decade, worth little more than they had been 20 years earlier.
UNPRECEDENTED GROWTH: 1990 AND BEYOND
By the early 1990s, Littleton was doing more than $10 million a year in business and employing a work force of 125. The company continued to send out coins to potential customers on an approval basis, requiring no down payment or credit card number, trusting that the coins would either be bought or returned. It was an old-fashioned, small town way of doing business, but it continued to be a successful formula. By the same token, Littleton hired experts to refine its operation and brought in talented managers in specialized areas to drive growth. As a result, from 1990 to 1995, when the company turned 50 years old, Littleton enjoyed the strongest five-year period of growth in its history.
Most of the business had come from U.S. coins, but now the company began paying greater attention to money from around the world, from recent years and antiquity. Nevertheless, some of the most exciting moments for the company in the late 1990s involved large caches of U.S. coins. Littleton, for example, acquired the 23,000-coin collection of a deceased New York City subway clerk, Morris Moscow. Each day at work from the 1940s to the 1960s, he sorted through the change, stashing interesting finds in tan Transit Authority envelopes, some of which would not be opened for 40 years or more. Littleton acquired an even greater hoard—over 1.7 million Indian Head pennies, Liberty Head nickels, and Buffalo nickels—collected by an anonymous man in the Midwest who stashed them in canvas bags and 55-gallon drums hidden in the walls of his house. In 1999 Littleton bought 8,261 silver dollars minted from the legendary Comstock Lode of the 1850s, which had been sitting in a bank vault for the past 26 years. In the year 2000 Littleton was again in the news and enhancing its reputation when it helped a New Hampshire man sell a $20 gold certificate, issued during the Civil War and redeemable from the U.S. treasury for $20 in gold. The oversized bill had been passed down in a family through a relative who had been a New York banker, spending several decades in a leather pouch tucked in a desk drawer. The fourth-generation owner finally decided to have it appraised along with some other coins and 19th-century paper money that came to him. One dealer gave a value of $1,100 for the entire collection, while a second offered a $2,000 estimate. The owner sensed that the dealers had spotted something of value in the collection and he sought out Littleton, which immediately informed him that the gold certificate was extremely rare. When Littleton auctioned it off, the note fetched the owner $220,000 and the company praise for its honesty.
Business continued to grow for Littleton in the new century. The company moved into a new modern 65,000-square-foot headquarters, the largest in the United States dedicated to coin and paper money collecting. It became a minor tourist attraction for visitors from around the world, who came to take a company tour. In 2005, Littleton added another 20,000 square feet to increase operations and warehouse space. Now 90 years old, Maynard Sundman was on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony.
PRINCIPAL OPERATING UNITS
U.S. Coins; U.S. Paper Money; Rare Coins; Ancient Coins; World Money.
American Gold Exchange, Inc.; Legend Numismatics; National Gold Exchange.
Franklin, Amy, "Old West Coins Emerge from Vault," Wisconsin State Journal, April 24, 1999, p. 8B.
"Man Finds $20 Heirloom Worth $250,000," Florida Times Union, November 27, 2000, p. A4.
O'Traynor, Michael, A Descent Boldness: The Life Achievement of Maynard Sundman at Littleton Stamp & Coin Company, Littleton, New Hampshire: Littleton Coin Press, 1995, 330 p.
"Rare Coins Roar Back into Circulation," Daily News (Los Angeles, New York), July 24, 1997, p. N2.
Stecklow, Steve, "Firm Reflects Small-Town Virtues," Philadelphia Inquirer, July 21, 1992, p. A01.
Tirrell-Wysocki, David, "Littleton Firm Hits Jackpot with Old Coin Cache," Associated Press, November 16, 1998.