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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 8, February 22, 2009, Article 24

MORE ON THE DEBATE FOR AND AGAINST NUMISMATIC MUSEUMS

Last week's discussion brought forth these comments from reader Alan V. Weinberg. -Editor
With respect to the Mudd vs Rhue opinions on the wisdom and value of locking up numismatic treasures in a museum or institution, I side with Rhue as do, I believe, a majority of collectors.

It is one thing for a museum to be adequately staffed, have a rotating exhibit of fine collections, permitting easy access to their holdings to serious collectors, photographers, and researchers - not the man off the street (with the necessary supervision - I recall the ANS debacles involving Sheldon with large cents and years later Suros with ancient coins), and finally, a fine web site where photographic access can be had to their holdings.

Unfortunately, I do not know of a single numismatic institution that provides all this. They simply don't have the personnel, the money or the inclination. Unless the donor of his/her collection can financially support and assure such museum services into perpetuity, I support the public auction of fine collections where, for instance, a fine catalogue by Stack's documents historically and photographically a collector's lifetime numismatic pursuits. I'll be darned if my collection of some 50+ years will end up in a museum. I'll never forget the 1966 Washington D.C. Congressional sub-committee hearings involving the "gift" of the Josiah K. Lilly gold collection to the Smithsonian in exchange for a $5.5 million estate tax credit on the Lilly estate (a lot of $ in those days). In effect the American public was purchasing the collection for $5.5 million dollars.

Kosoff, Stack, Clain-Stefanelli and the two supporting Indiana senators including Birch Bayh testified everything in the collection was genuine. And Clain-Stefanelli swore under oath that any duplication in the Lilly / Smithsonian holdings would be auctioned. Well, many of the gold coins and ingots in the Lilly collection were modern-made forgeries or items of high suspicion to the point where ultimately the Smithsonian took down the entire Lilly exhibit years ago.

My letter of inquiry on the non-disposal of duplicates resulted in the Smithsonian Secretary (the Head Curator in charge, as it were) responding in writing that, in fact, the Smithsonian required THREE examples of every coin or ingot, to exhibit obverse and reverse and a third to loan out to other institutions. An obverse and reverse of a 1933 double eagle, indeed!

So much for Clain-Stefanelli's sworn oath. Had Congress known at the time that the Smithsonian required three of anything numismatic, surpassing the biblical Noah, and that so much of the Lilly Collection was fake, I have little doubt that collection would not have gone into what is today a federal government "lockup".



Wayne Homren, Editor

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