Sayville resident coin expert shares his unique jewels
The Monumental Group co-owner Chris Imperato holds up one of his angel coins, a rectangular male angel riding a hippocamp from 1775. The Sayville Army veteran is a coin expert; some in his collection date over 2,000 years.

SCN/Leuzzi

Sayville resident coin expert shares his unique jewels

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
11/7/2019


The coins—gold, bronze, silver and other metals in small, exquisite round forms and larger circumferences and shapes—display angels in gleaming glass cases. There are 300 of them displayed; wielding swords, holding birds, sitting on mythical creatures and even one on a vintage bicycle. A swirl of history permeates The Monumental Group, where the former Sayville Community Ambulance was located, and before that, New York Telephone, with its women manning switchboards. The building itself dates back to 1924.

You would want to stop in. Owner Chris Imperato, who co-founded the business with Dan Perez in 2013, is a knowledgeable numismatic, or coin expert. He is also a fascinating raconteur for each piece, with anecdotes about the eras, monarchs, wars of their time, and cities they originated in.

“It’s the largest collection outside The British Museum,” he said of the coins he displays, plus others stored, totaling 600. “And there are several here over 2,000 years old.”

Imperato picked up the oldest, from the Kingdom of Macedon, 336-323 B.C. “There she is,” he said of Nike, a winged female. It was an exquisitely formed gold stater coin, weighing 9 grams.  On the other side was Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, the symbol of Athens. 

“Angel depictions go back 10,000 years ago to Mezoamerica and Egypt, which show winged humans,” he added. “Most are typically represented by younger women or cherubs.” Archangel Michael slaying the dragon, though, was part of the collection, as well as Icarus.

The bronze coin with the angel on a bike mentioned earlier was from a Swiss touring club with an 1896 date. And the angel riding the hippocamp, a horse’s body with a fish tail, is from 1775 and signed by Augustin Dupré, a French engraver and friend of Benjamin Franklin. 

“I just love them and find it fascinating that angels span more than 2,000 years in coinage and over 10,000 years in art,” Imperato said.

But it’s not just coins presented in this attractive gallery; Imperato sells historic documents, currency and medals, antique toy pistols, Civil War photos, old jewelry, gleaming amethysts and other stones in their rough form.  

He has two notable copies of the Declaration of Independence and will give you a history lesson in details they don’t teach in higher education. The original, he noted, sits in the upper level of the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C.

One of the prized copies he had on display was made by John Binns. By 1815, the original had seriously deteriorated, and there was a need for a facsimile, so copies were made by commission or permission and Binns’s work, from 1819, is considered one of the valuable original copies. 

 The rarest documents Imperato owned consisted of strategic letters by George Washington.

Five staffers work upstairs. Claude Lazar came down to talk stamps. “Claude is our philatelic [stamp] expert,” explained Imperato after introductions. “My father owned a stamp company in New York City, Fatoullah Lazar Inc.,” Lazar said. Lazar was a mentor to Imperato when he began working at New World Rarities. When the owner retired, “I wanted to set up my own shop and a lot of people needed a job,” Imperato said. 

Co-founder Dan Perez runs the retail side of the business; Imperato is the coin connoisseur.

“Stamps have been issued since 1840,” explained Lazar. “And they’ve been an art form. Every country has issued them.”

Imperato showed Lazar the first U.S. adhesive stamps; he wanted to use them for postage.

“Don’t use them,” said Lazar alarmed. “You’ll make me cry.”

They bantered. Imperato pulled out books of stamps noting their price; Lazar pointed out they were worth double.

Imperato’s love for coins and collectibles began in Brooklyn. At age 6, he dug through garbage after his friend Derek taught him about the cool things he could find. “I found an Indian head penny collection in a blue folder,” he recalled. “I fell in love with them and with archaeology.” He travels all over Europe for his collections and has a large Instagram following. Clients come in and sometimes spend three hours in the attractive showroom. 

(Not surprising. Maybe it’s the heft of the centuries represented here, but even the plants have a vibrant vibe.) 

Imperato began working for New World Rarities in 1995 after his stint in the U.S. Army and National Guard from 1988 to 1995, serving in Germany until the takedown of the Berlin Wall. He then supported the U.S. Department of State’s Beirut Air Bridge Mission. After military service, Imperato earned an Associate in Science in criminal justice from SUNY Farmingdale and a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from SUNY Stony Brook. 

As a veteran, he devotes volunteer time with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 433 on Lakeland Avenue. He is also a Sayville Rotarian. 

“Unless you’re a veteran or a family member of a vet, you don’t even know our military are serving in so many hostile places,” he said. “And they’re forgotten. When they return they’re forgotten, and they suffer with ailments, as do their families.” He helps out with two events a year at the post, saluting and transporting vets from the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook and Northport Veterans Nursing Home. 

But back to the showroom. If you’re a youngster, come on in. He’ll give you a free treasure chest of coins from different times and places. “I get customers who are 10, 11,” he said. 

“Every kid wants to be an archeologist and dig for treasure,” he said knowingly, remembering his first forays in Brooklyn.