Made In The Berkshires | Air-Tite: Keeping coins and medallions safe, secure
Photo Gallery | Air-Tite coin holders keep collections secure
NORTH ADAMS — Mark Therrien was the only member of his family that collected coins.
His father, Norman, liked to invent things. One day Mark showed his father his coin collection. His interest piqued, Norman bought a bunch of coin holders to protect them.
When Norman's father, who lived nearby, came for a visit, Norman showed him the coin holders that he had purchased. He wasn't impressed with the quality. Norman thought he could make a better coin holder.
"And his father said, 'Why don't you?' " Mark's brother, Scott Therrien, recalled. "And, basically as far as I know, that's how the idea was born."
That's how the late Norman Therrien, who spent 33 years at GE Ordnance writing technical manuals for submarines, came up with the blueprint for Air-Tite Holders Inc.
Since then, Air-Tite has been living up to its company slogan: "Quality protection for your collection."
Located at the back of the Robert Hardman Industrial Park on Curran Highway, Air-Tite Holders uses injection molding to make the plastic containers for coins and medallions. Norman Therrien's unique design — a system of holders and rings that fit all sizes of coins — has remained the same since the company's inception in 1980.
Norman Therrien died in 1997, but the company is now co-owned by his sons Scott and Glenn, and their stepmother, Ann Tanner. Mark is a company employee.
Air-Tite has been at its current location, which contains 22,000 square feet, since 2004. Before moving to North Adams, Air-Tite spent 10 years at the Wyandotte Mill complex in Pittsfield, after being located at five different spots in Dalton.
None of the owners is exactly sure how Norman came up with the ring system that can hold coins in six standard holders, but it definitely filled a need.
"It's inconceivable to produce molds for every single coin that's been produced, even the U.S. coins from the 1700s and 1800s until now," Scott said. "But my father was able to come up with four sizes of holders. Within these holders, there's a ring that's black or white that has different openings to gauge for coins."
Since the rings can be adjusted to become bigger or smaller, collectors are able to keep several sizes of coins or medallions within the same holder. Air-Tite's smallest model can hold six or seven differently sized coins, Scott said.
And, Air-Tite can produce plastic coin holders to any size, Scott said. "All our holders are basically individuals."
There's a market for Air-Tite's coin holders. Not including U.S. mints, there are at least 5,000 active coin companies in the United States. At least 10 of them have annual sales that exceed $100 million.
The American Numismatic Association — coin collectors are known as numismatists — is estimated to have 31,000 members. Magazines, websites and expositions are dedicated to coin collecting.
Air-Tite also sells boxes and other holders to display all types of coin collections, and has made other molded items like Pez dispensers and products for Disney.
Air-Tite originally patented the holder and rings Norman Therrien developed. But those patents expired a long time ago and became to expensive for the company to renew.
Luckily for Air-Tite, the company doesn't have a lot of competition.
"There's five or six companies that make the same kind of holder that we do now," Scott said. "It's a pretty unique field, which has been a blessing for us. It just comes down to who makes a better mousetrap.
"There's a lot of bad ones on the market," he said. "Some are made with the wrong plastic."
Air-Tite manufactures its holders by molding virgin acrylic plastic that contains a non-yellowing agent, which maintains the clarity of the holders over time.
"A lot of companies make them out of polystyrene, which is a lower grade plastic," Scott said. "It's brittle. It scratches easy, it breaks away, and lots of times it will have a blue or gray hue to the plastic. That's why we wouldn't use polystyrene."
Air-Tite sells mostly to private mints and "fulfillment houses," companies that gather and package products for companies like QVC or the Home Shopping Network.
"If you ever watch coin shows on TV, you'll see a lot of our holders there," Scott said.
Retail sales make up roughly 2 percent of Air-Tite's total business. "We've tried going after it," Glenn said.
Air-Tite's sales have been steady for a number of years.
"It's a niche market company and we are one of the leaders," Scott said.
Air-Tite's coin holders were originally molded by other businesses, before the company decided to make them in-house to save money.
"I talked to my dad, and he said if you want to do the mold, the guy across the street has a junky old machine," Glenn said. "Let's buy it and refurbish it."
The last of the company's original injection molding machines was replaced four years ago. Air-Tite currently has nine state-of-the-art modern machines some of them with robotics capability.
Air-Tite has 14 employees, including the three co-owners. The modern machines have helped the company cut down on costs.
"When we moved into this building, we did two shifts with 26 people," Scott said. "But with the new equipment and the robotics, we're down to what we have now."
Air-Tite also has reduced its energy costs by switching completely to solar power, a project completed a few months ago. The company's 250-kilowatt solar array was installed by U.S. Light and Energy of Latham, N.Y. Last month, Air-Tite paid $28 to the electric company.