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The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 50, December 12, 2010, Article 10

THE PHILADELPHIA MINT EXHIBIT OF THE LOUIS ELIASBERG COIN COLLECTION

Harvey Stack submitted this great reminiscence of Louis Eliasberg and the Eliasberg exhibit at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. WOW - Thanks! -Editor

I read with great interest the various comments about Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., whom I was quite close to, as I indicated in earlier article concerning the H.R. Lee auction sale.

I think your readers should know more about Mr. Eliasberg. He was a prominent banker in the Baltimore area for over 50 years. One of his specialties was lending to the various distillers in the mid-Atlantic area monies to fund their products while they kept their products in bond. (this is during the aging period).

I remember he always liked to say to me, "Harvey, my boy." 'Lou', as I was allowed to call him, was a very dedicated collector. He knew that he had the good fortune to acquire the Clapp Collection, which set him on the way to his goal, to try to have a full collection.

I cannot tell you how he or we missed the 1866-S No Motto Double Eagle, except I believe that Clapp did not leave an empty hole in his album page, and everyone overlooked it. When one considers the great rarities and almost unique coins he acquired, an oversight of a "Date-Variety" can occur.

However, let's look at the man. He was proud of what he had, and did not hesitate to show it when collectors came visiting. He was always willing to learn, and we the Stack Family endeavored to keep him informed and up-to-date.

He, as a banker, who served on numerous boards in the Baltimore area, showed his collection to the public often. I remember when he had a display in the vast lobby of the Baltimore National Bank in 1951. He left it on display for a period of several months, then returned the collection to the vaults.

Every few years, in order to expose the collection to the collectors, as well as the depositors, of various banks, he allowed the collection to be displayed in special rooms in the displaying banks.

Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., was an active collector and was known to belong to many coin clubs in the Baltimore Area, and he usually displayed a few rarities to excite the viewing collectors. He often permitted the coins he showed to be passed among the viewers so they could always say that they HAD HELD this rarity or that rarity THEMSELVES!

As I related in an earlier article in The E-Sylum, he did dispose of some of his duplicates at auction through our company. He did not wish to have the Eliasberg name attached to the sale, so the H. R. LEE COLLECTION label was used.

But let's now get to the story of the Bicentennial Exhibit at the Philadelphia Mint during the celebration in 1976 and sometime after.

As the years had gone by since Lou acquired the Clapp collection and continued to complete it, by early 1970 he thought about what would happen to the collection after he passed away. I remember visiting him in 1970 when he set forth a sales idea for his collection. HIS DESIRE AT THAT TIME WAS TO KEEP IT INTACT.

He formulated a plan, which to us was quite unique for the hobby. It was common in that period,(as it was done often for the previous three decades) to take great collections and show them about the country. How did many get shown? The exhibitor would engage a group of railroad cars, set up the collection in a vibrant display, park the train in railroad stations, for weeks at a time, and invite the public to view it.

His method of showing the collection was unique in its own way. As he did in banks earlier, he had developed display frames, with glass on both sides, so collectors could view each coin for date, and mint mark where applicable. These frames were set up in vertical steel racks of 10 to 15 frames working like a ROLODEX that could be rotated. Full series were so displayed. It was a remarkable way to show the coins, and those who came to see them, were excited and pleased to be able to view this collection in this manner.

Realizing after he conceived this great idea for show, he approached many houses on Wall Street as well as large corporations to show the collection with their support and that these corporations could use THEIR NAME as an advertising vehicle. THEN, after a two or three year display about the country, he would have some Wall Street House to Incorporate the collection, SELL SHARES AND TAKE THE COLLECTION PUBLIC, so it could remain INTACT for the future. WOW, what an IDEA ! Now you know what made him so successful in business.

Unfortunately, the economic conditions in the early 1970'S were not great, and the idea did not fly. It was taken off the market in 1973 or early 1974, so the Louis E. Eliasberg could think of how HE could keep the collection intact.

Now we have to switch locations of discussion. In 1974 the U.S. Mint was building a new building to house a brand new facility in Philadelphia. They wanted not only to show how coins were made, but wanted to make a exhibit of their earlier products: coins and medals.

As the Mint, starting near the beginning of the 20th Century housed many of its coins in the Smithsonian Institution, where they were put on display for all to see. The mint asked the then curators of the National Numismatic Collection to return the coins that were "loaned" the Smithsonian.

The curators at the time were Vladimir and Elvira Clain-Stefanelli. They were horrified by the request. THEY HAD PLANNED TO EXHIBIT A GOODLY NUMBER OF THE COINS AT THE SMITHSONIAN IN WASHINGTON during the bicentennial. The work they did before the request was received included a massive display of the same coins. After all, they had showed them and used them in displays for many years, and they expected to be able to show them together with the other coins in the Smithsonian during the Bicentennial Celebration. Only they wanted the coins shown in the Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

As the Stefanellis were great friends of the entire Stack Family (they worked for us in the 1950's), they came to us with the problem in hand. I remembered the idea that Louis E. Eliasberg was thinking of, to expose HIS COLLECTION nationwide. I thought, what if we could convince Lou to show his collection at the Mint in Philadelphia? So Norman and I went to Baltimore to propose the idea to him. At the time he was not well, and our visit was welcomed as old friends who helped each others for well over three decades. He smiled, puffed on his cigar, and turned to me and said, 'MY BOY, THAT IS A GREAT IDEA' "Do you think it can be done.?

The Stack Family had made friends through the years at various government agencies, and we called on the many we knew to propose the idea to the Mint. Those we knew all thought that the idea was a great diplomatic solution to a very touchy problem. (A few years earlier besides helping the government show the Truman Library Collection we worked on various projects with the Mint).

There was an Assistant Director at the Mint offices in Washington, D.C. who was recommended to us . The members of the Stack Family put their heads together, thought how to approach the Mint and I pleaded the case to the Mint Representatives. A similar approach was done by the Smithsonian officials. To release back to the Mint all the coins they wanted could start a great debate between the Smithsonian and the Mint. The idea went forward.

At that point, Louis E. Eliasberg, Jr., who through the years worked closely with his father when exhibits had to be made, was given the job of negotiation with the Mint. Louis Sr.'s health did not permit him to do the negotiations himself.

Louis Jr., was somewhat of a flamboyant person - strong negotiator and always looking to please his father's wishes when deals had to be made. Well, all went well, except for one item. It had been agreed that the Mint would send their armored trucks to Baltimore to pick up the collection and provide chase cars before and after the trucks to further protect the transportation of the collection.

Louis Jr. felt he wanted to show how much he was concerned with the transportation and setting up of the collection. He wanted to be part of the ESCORT detail to follow the collection in one of the "chase cars". Though this was not common for a non-government person to ride in a security government vehicle, the Mint officials decided to break the procedure and agreed.

But that didn't satisfy Louis Jr. He asked that the Mint Officials get him a federal arms permit so he could travel interstate with his own gun. This really was breaking the Mint's protocol. Never done before! Well, he responded, YOU'LL NEVER DISPLAY THE ELIASBERG COLLECTION! After a call to the Division of Federal Firearms, a concession was made, and he rode shotgun while moving his father's collection.

The collection was shipped in early 1976 and was received at the Mint the same day. Waiting to receive it was a group of mint officials and myself. I was there to help the exhibit be assembled and placed on a huge balcony overlooking the gigantic lobby entrances to the Mint.

Louis Jr. was so headstrong and wishing to boast to his father that HE was put in charge of setting up the displays, and he made a point that those who were there to help him, including myself, weren't really needed (of course he was wrong, as some of the panels were put out of order, and if I wasn't there, they would be difficult to find during the exhibit).

Louis Jr.'s character during the assembly of the collection, that he personally sealed the display cases, with special seals on the special racks that would hold them! He actually had a special seal made to insure that they weren't tampered with. With the amount of guards the Mint provided about the display, it could never happen. But Louis Jr. was so paranoid that we all gave in to his whims.

The collection was on display for several years during the BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION, was viewed by many millions of visitors, and was a major attraction!

Having been there myself, watching all this happen, let me say without contradiction, that the ELIASBERG COLLECTION was on full display at the MINT in PHILADELPHIA during our country's great BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION.

I am extremely proud to have been a part of making it happen. Unfortunately, Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr., the developer of the collection, never had the pleasure to see the display at the Mint during the Bicentennial because of ill health. He would have surely been a proud man!

THE BOOK BAZARRE

“History of the United States Mint and Its Coinage.”
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Wayne Homren, Editor

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