Jeweler finds currency in ancient coins

Growing up on a kibbutz near Beit Shean, Erez Epshtein used to love going out with his father on archeological excursions. They never returned empty-handed.

Pottery shards, bits of glass and sometimes even 2,000-year-old coins would yield themselves up from the ancient ground.

Those brushes with history rubbed off on Epshtein. Today the former kibbutznik owns Silver Mind, a Berkeley-based jewelry company that sets Greek, Roman and Jewish coins in bracelets, earrings, necklaces and other accessories.

Epshtein will display his wares at the Marin Art Festival Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and 19.

At any given time, Epshtein keeps locked up in his studio hundreds of coins from the ancient world. Made of gold, silver, copper, brass and bronze, the coins evoke long-vanished empires.

“People buy something they can relate to in history,” he says of his clientele. “All items come with a certificate of authenticity. But the Greek and Roman coins are getting very expensive. This is not the cheapest jewelry on the market.”

The jeweler notes that most of his coin supply comes from farmers, not unlike the kibbutzniks he grew up with, who constantly come across artifacts while plowing the fields of Israel. “Any excavation will uncover things,” he says.

Epshtein looks back very fondly on his youth, saying Kibbutz Hefzibha in the Jezreel Valley was a great place to grow up. His grandparents emigrated from Europe to Palestine before the founding of the modern state of Israel.

“My father was in charge of laying the pipelines for the agricultural needs in the valley,” he says. “He always brought some [artifact] home.”

With their home near the Jordanian border, the Epshteins faced a measure of danger, but it didn’t faze them. “The borders were always hot,” he recalls. “But as a kid you get used to it. It’s not scary.”

Though Middle East history fascinated him, Epshtein admits he was more into “motorcycles and girls.” In 1994, he came to America, initially to study Chinese medicine, but eight years ago he got involved with the jewelry trade and ultimately launched Silver Mind.

He enjoyed immediate success when the Nature Company placed a large order for all of its stores. Today, Epshtein serves clients around the world, from Japan to Mexico to England.

Most of the coins he uses are of Greek, Roman, Jewish and Byzantine origin. He says that the Jewish coins are among the most rare. “There are only two periods [of Jewish history] that are affordable,” notes Epshtein. “One is 1st Century BCE and the other is the 2nd Century CE. The coins were minted by Roman governors and by the Maccabees.” Most of the coins come in half-shekel denominations. But they are worth far more than that today.

“I get very little competition,” adds Epshtein, “but it’s complicated because you have to do a lot of education for the customers to convince them the coins are 2,000 years old. To most people, 40 years is old is an antique.”

But the jeweler doesn’t mind making the effort. “Besides,” he adds, “I get a lot of help from History Channel.”

The Ninth Annual Marin Art Festival will take place 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 18, at Lagoon Park at the Marin Civic Center, off Highway 101, San Rafael. Tickets: $8. Children age 14 and under admitted free. Information: (415) 388-0151.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.