Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 12 News List

A former porn king finds a new calling in coins made with Ground Zero silver

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , New York

The days of Avram Freedberg as a distributor of pornography are well behind him. No longer is he involved with such businesses as the exquisitely alliterative Dirty Dick's Dynamite Discount Den. No longer does he mail out videos and magazines in discreet packages.

Fifteen years have passed since he struck a deal with the federal government to make a collection of obscenity charges go away. He paid US$600,000 in fines, agreed to get out of the pornography business and set out to reinvent himself.

He moved on to other direct-mail opportunities, including National Collector's Mint, which sells "collectible" coins -- anything from classic American silver dollars to numismatic schlock. Gradually, Freedberg the Dirty Dick's Den guy was replaced by Freedberg the civic-minded citizen of Stamford, Connecticut, chairman of this nonprofit board, member of that.

Destiny Beckons

Ah, but destiny was not finished with Avram Freedberg, and it beckoned after the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Among the very few painless stories to emerge from the calamity was one centered on gold and silver bullion that was buried beneath the rubble in a Bank of Nova Scotia vault. By the time the bank resurrected the bullion for its customers, the precious metals had become even more precious, in a perverse free-market sort of way.

This was no longer just gold and silver, but Ground Zero Gold and Silver, touched by tragedy, twinkling with opportunity. But who among us caught that twinkle? Who but Avram Freedberg.

David Ganz, a lawyer for National Collector's Mint, said that an owner of some of the bullion quietly sold his silver to someone who quietly sold it to someone else, who quietly sold it to Freedberg.

And no, he said, he could not provide any names.

Silver medallions are nice, but they lack the valuable allure of government-issue coins.

So Freedberg contacted SoftSky Inc., a company in Wyoming that produces commemorative coins for various governments, including the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The three parties made a deal.

Freedberg shipped his silver to one of SoftSky's minting operations. Base-metal blanks were clad in a thin veneer of his holy silver, then struck with an image of the twin towers on one side and the proposed Freedom Tower on the other.

"What I want to emphasize is that it is not legal tender," said Joseph Hartman, the president of SoftSky. "It is a legally authorized commemorative coin."

"One Dollar," reads the coin that could not buy you a cup of coffee in Secaucus or Saipan. "In God We Trust."

Marketing Push

Then began the direct-mail push, and Freedberg is fluent in the hyperventilating language of that world. Rising from the ashes of ground zero! Limited Special Release of $19.95! We will never forget!

But how do we know that this silver is Ground Zero Silver? To find the answer, a visit was paid to a dreary industrial park in the village of Port Chester, New York, where Freedberg runs his business on the second floor of a warehouse-style building.

A request to speak with Freedberg was answered with a written statement delivered to the lobby. The message was delivered that Freedberg was not available. Nor did he respond to telephone messages seeking comment. But Ganz, the lawyer, said that he had been authorized to answer some limited questions.

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