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Viewpoint: Hobby Loses Great ‘Unknown’ Numismatist

By Scott Mitchell

There is an old Carole King song that alludes to our lives being a “tapestry,” so to speak. I forget the lyrics of the song, and whether or not they would even apply to what I hope to convey in this piece: however, the symbolism has remained with me. Throughout our lives, there are those with which we intersect; some for a day, some for a season, and some for most of our lifetime. These individuals, whether for good or for bad, have had an influence upon who we were, who we are now, and/or who we are yet to ultimately become. Some might weave a single short thread within the intricate tapestry of our life, and others weave a thread that runs through our tapestry in a much more distinctive and enduring way. A dear friend and colleague of mine has recently passed away, and it so happens that his influence not only in my life, but in the lives of so many others that worked side by side with him over the course of their careers, have had their tapestry forever embellished by his influence.

Tom Panichella was a professional numismatist that had a long, enduring career within our hobby; working first for Minkus Stamp & Publishing and later for Stack’s. Over a professional career that spanned from the late 1970s to nearly the present day, he was a fixture to many New York City collectors of his generation. I could go on and on regarding all of the numismatic notables with whom he worked, or the many well-known clients for which he helped build collections, for his numismatic expertise, certainly was quite noteworthy, and there were many dealers and collectors alike that either knew him personally or knew of him from afar.

Ultimately, however, the number of expensive coins that we have handled, the number of famous people with which we have hobnobbed, the amount of money that we have made, the number of books, articles and auction catalogs that we have written, the number of awards that we have won, and the amount of fancy stories about rich collectors that we can tell mean very little in comparison to the meaningful impact that we have had on the lives of those around us. Tom, in a way that not even he would have ever realized, deftly weaved a long and wonderful thread into the tapestry of so many of those that knew him without them even realizing it. It took a car driving down the wrong side of the street, hitting Tom’s car, and shortly thereafter ending his life, for any of us to realize all that his friendship meant.

The loss of a brother, whether it be a sibling with which we shared early life experiences or whether it be a “brother” with whom we shared adversity, struggle, joy, jokes, pranks, knowledge and ultimately success often forces us to consider what makes up the so-called “measure of a man.” The measure of a man for me has never equated into any type of physical strength, athletic prowess, machismo, sense of style, ability to make money, or any of the more temporal features that may otherwise attract us. For me, as it is for many, the measure of a man ultimately can be determined by his love, faith, honesty, benevolence, unselfish nature, and relentless desire to be a role model to those around him. Tom’s life embodied all of these positive qualities, and so much more.

There is a rather short list of largely unknown deceased numismatic professionals that have had the greatest influence upon me during my 40-plus years as a full-time professional numismatist and 55-plus years as a continuing collector. Some might remember the likes of Hank Ubinas, Seymour Pike, Ron Posner and others that are far from being household names in the coin business. I certainly do, as each of them were immensely formative in making me the numismatic professional that I strive to be today and hope to become through however many additional years that God sees fit to grant me. Sadly I, along with so many others that knew Tom, must now add his name to this list of truly great men that most of us never had the pleasure and benefit of knowing. Sleep well my brother, and I will see you in the morning.