David McCarthy, ’97: The Treasure Hunter

By: Laurie A. Kaiser

When David McCarthy, ’97, a senior numismatist and researcher with Kagin’s Inc., found himself in the limelight a few years ago, he was glad he’d paid attention in his Buffalo State public relations courses.

It was 2013, and McCarthy had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to evaluate the largest buried treasure of coins found on American soil, the Saddle Ridge Hoard, valued at $10 million. When a couple walking their dog discovered cans full of coins stuffed into the ground, they brought them to Kagin’s.

“It was a life-changing experience,” said McCarthy, who wrote the press release and handled the dozens of ensuing media inquiries from outlets including Time, CNN, and National Geographic.

“All the things I learned in Ron Smith’s and Bruce Bryski’s classes came back to me. I was grateful to have studied under them,” said McCarthy, whose father, Dennis McCarthy, served as associate dean of arts and humanities at Buffalo State beginning in 1991 and also taught technical theater for many years.

During his career with Kagin’s, a numismatic firm located near San Francisco, California, McCarthy also verified a Billy the Kid tintype valued at $5 million, which also garnered international media attention.

McCarthy didn’t always know he wanted to specialize in coins or historic artifacts.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication, he worked as a concert promoter. He was able to use the skills he honed on the Student Union Board, when he booked such impressive campus shows as the Smashing Pumpkins and Bob Dylan. But he soon realized the corporate direction the music business was heading, and his interest began to wane.

Around that time, his mother was working for Williamsville coin dealer Richard Nachbar. When she suffered a stroke and ended up in the hospital, Nachbar offered to pay McCarthy more than he was making and pay his mother’s full salary while she recovered if he would work for him.

 “Pretty soon I realized it was much more interesting than what I had been doing,” McCarthy said. “Customers brought in every kind of coin you could imagine.”

A few years later, a friend told McCarthy that Kagin’s, the largest family-run numismatic business in North America, was looking for someone with his talents. He joined Kagin’s in 2003 and now specializes in some of the most historically important coins around today.

“I’m excited about handling things that have fantastic stories,” he said, “objects that have had an actual impact in the world we live in.”

For the past year, he’s been working on one of his favorite projects thus far—identifying the first coin ever struck by the U.S. government.

“I’m very fortunate that such interesting projects come to me,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing a wonderful game where I get to be treasure hunter and detective.”

McCarthy also gets to use his communication skills as a sought-after speaker on the subjects of pioneer gold coins, regulated gold, and collecting.

 “All the knowledge I gained at Buffalo State has come full circle—from philosophy to communication,” he said. “I’ve found that the model for success is not to follow a pre-set path but rather to build a solid toolbox of skills. When an opportunity comes your way, recognize it and capitalize on it.”