Today's St. Petersburg Times has a great article on Mark Yaffe of the National Gold Exchange. The author's point of view is that Yaffe's passion for collecting orchestrions and building a home to house them led to the downfall of his coin business. Here are some excerpts, but be sure to read the whole thing.
Mark Yaffe's 300 guests could have easily mistaken him for a lord of a bygone era as he ushered them under a 10-foot high Venetian glass chandelier in the great hall of his mock English Jacobean palace.
Yaffe was hosting a fundraiser for Hillsborough County Community College that night in 2005, attended by the high and mighty of Tampa. Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs was there. Actors in medieval costumes mingled among them.
Waltzing through the surroundings, it seemed obvious: Yaffe had arrived.
He was a college dropout who rose to head National Gold Exchange, a Tampa-based coin wholesale business that brought in half a million dollars a week.
But behind the glitz, Yaffe's empire was on shaky ground. This summer, his bank demanded he repay a $35 million business loan. Hidden in the bankruptcy court documents: Yaffe was nursing a multimillion-dollar passion that was eating away his business, the bank said.
Yaffe had blown through tens of millions of dollars on his collection of antique music machines and the mansion he had custom built to display them.
Colleagues describe Yaffe as an introvert with a genius' attention to detail. He can plow through a pile of 1,000 gold coins and, using his trained eye, immediately pinpoint the fakes by noting nearly microscopic mint marks.
Yaffe moved to Tampa in 1988, ensconcing himself in a 10,000-square-foot house in the exclusive Avila community in North Tampa. That's when he developed his second great passion: music machines.
Yaffe applied his talent for detail to assembling one of the world's best collections. He described the allure during a brief interview after a recent bankruptcy hearing in Tampa. Forty-nine years old, with salt-and-pepper hair above a pair of accountant's glasses, Yaffe came alive when he described the hobby.
"Consider a painting on the wall," he said, gesturing to a framed print hanging in the courthouse. "After a while you get bored just looking. With these machines you can listen to beautiful music. And on top of that, they're works of art."
The collection grew so fast that Yaffe was forced to stash machines in his garage, in off-site warehouses, even in his brother's house.
"These things are fun to show off," Goldman said. "You don't have to lock them away in a vault like a coin collection."
"Some of these things are 12 feet tall. You can't put them in your standard 8-foot-ceiling house,'' Goldman said. "These collections dictate where you live.''
First Yaffe had to finish the house. As the home progressed, he continued to grow the collection. In 2000 he bought a rare Hupfeld Helios, a cabinet containing 256 pipes that mimic clarinets, flutes, cellos and other instruments. The seller was Fisher Nut's Sanfillipo. He drove a hard bargain, charging Yaffe $1.2 million. Yaffe paid $352,000 to restore it.
Yaffe took out several mortgages worth millions. What had started as a relatively modest 12,000-square-foot blueprint had ballooned into the 29,000-square-foot palace. Once, to tide things over, Yaffe asked a neighbor for a $200,000 loan.
The bank seized all of Yaffe's coins, effectively putting National Gold out of business. They're locked away in a Brinks vault. Ahead lies months of wrangling in bankruptcy court. The music boxes remain secure in the regal splendor of Yaffe's mansion, under the watchful eye of the federal courts.
To read the complete article, see:
The fortune Mark Yaffe made in coins collapses under his other collection
The Brandon Times and Tribune also published an equally interesting article. There is some overlap between the two papers, but it's worth reading both.
Even by Avila's opulent standards, Mark Yaffe's home is something to behold.
With 10 bedrooms and 14 fireplaces, the 29,000-square-foot manor rises from the estate like an English countryside castle. What's inside, however, may be even more striking. The Yaffe household is a shrine to more than 100 self-playing antique mechanical musical instruments.
Some are worth at least $1 million, including the real showpieces: "orchestrions" - boxy devices with mechanical arms that pound drums, plink a xylophone and tickle piano keys.
To read the complete article, see:
Antiques hold million-dollar melodies
Wayne Homren, Editor
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