Harvey Stack's blog series focuses on growing up in a numismatic family. Here are parts 28 and 29. Nothing beats a report on numismatic events and personalities direct from
someone who was there to witness them in person. Thanks, Harvey! -Editor
As we closed out the 1950s, Stack’s continued to benefit from the relationships we had built in our more than a quarter of a century as coin dealers. Collectors who had
built collections in part by buying or bidding through Stack’s thought of us when it was time to sell. Another sale of note that we offered in 1959 was the famous Phillip
Straus Collection. Straus was a close friend of Louis Eliasberg, Sr. Louis Eliasberg helped Phillip Straus develop his collection and they sold to or traded with each other as
collector friends. We provided many of the coins, and when Strauss decided to retire from his banking business he asked Eliasberg what he should do. Eliasberg told him since there
were no members of his family interested to collecting, he should call up Stack's and have them auction the coins. With this recommendation, together with our own great
relationship with Mr. Straus, we got this sale. It was a great collection of Mint State coins and early Proof sets from 1858 on, and because of its quality, it attracted hundreds
to participate in the public auction.
During the fall of 1959 we sold the Thetford Collection, then the Wilson Reuter Collection and the Powers Collection. Each of the sales was chock full of high quality coins,
rare dates and very desirable specimens in both Mint State and Proof condition. Numismatics was so popular at the time and the Stack’s auctions were so well received that
collectors used to write to us asking when our next sales were and what would be included. We were fortunate to be able to offer many, many items that were on collectors’
want lists. Our clients all realized that these collections had been built years before, and that the coins were above average.
We also used our subsidiary firm Coin Galleries to sell many of the collections we were consigned that included Ancient coins, as well as world coins up to and including the
modern era. Coin Galleries offered primarily mail bid sales.
At the same time that we were offering these important auctions, the growth of numismatics in the late 1950s meant that Stack’s in New York City grew as a hub for both
collectors and dealers. Many of the items that our clients couldn’t find in our auctions, we were able to acquire for them in our retail shop. We were very busy, but with
all five members of the Stack family working day and night, we were able to keep up the pace and meet our clients’ needs. Of course, this kind of success attracted more
collectors, and we got busier and served even more people. It was an exciting year.
However, while all this growth in the hobby was very good, there was still an ongoing problem with more counterfeits on the market, especially within the gold coin series. The
Secret Service did their best, but they did not have enough staff to apprehend all the dealers and importers who were buying these false coins overseas and marketing them in the
United States. Stories about counterfeits appeared in various periodicals and newspapers. We heard that several good friends of President Eisenhower bought some counterfeit coins
and complained to the president that the Secret Service was not doing its job. Eisenhower directed the Treasury Department, who was entrusted with policing our coinage -- old as
well as current -- to investigate and put this abuse to an end.
During 1959 the Treasury took on the challenge of trying to stop the flow of counterfeit coins. They initiated the Office of Silver and Gold Operations, with Leland Howard as
director. Howard had experience in this work as at the end of World War II, he and others were in charge of inventorying the gold coins stored by the Germans and Italians which
had been taken from banks, museums and mints they overran. When these plundered stores were found, someone had to inventory them. That is how Leland Howard got his reputation and
appointment to the Office of Silver and Gold Operations. It took well over a year, until 1960-1961, for regulations to be put in place and for strong action to be taken. The story
of how the Treasury Department took on the counterfeiters will be explained in my story covering my experiences in 1960.
The year 1960 was another exciting year for my cousins, Ben and Norman, and me. We were all dedicated to growing as professional numismatists, building the hobby and keeping the
Each of us was responsible for running our parts of the operation. The shop on West 57th Street was the headquarters where the major work happened or was initiated. The shop,
which I managed, was the location for much buying and selling of coins and currency of the United States and the world. It was also a place for collectors who visited New York to
stop in, talk coins, and get further involved in numismatics. I was also one of the auctioneers for our public sales and when called upon I traveled to visit clients, and attended
shows nationwide. I got satisfaction from helping the collectors I worked with.
My cousin Norman was very happy with the job of researching and cataloging. He would sit in our back office (at a “partner” desk that I shared with him), and sort through
collections, research the coins being sold at auction or over the counter, and write extensive catalogs, in cooperation with my father, Morton. However, many were the times when
both Ben and I would pitch in to "get the catalogs in the mail” as these catalogs were sent out at least eight times each year. We wanted to make sure collectors had ample
time to review the offerings, submit bids, come to the shop to see the coins and attend our sales.
Ben, loved to travel and he attended many shows all over the country. He also visited many collectors and built relationships with them. His focus while on the road was buying
and selling and gathering consignments for our auctions. With the many Stack family members involved we operated at "full steam.” Joseph B. (Ben and Norman's dad) worked
in the shop greeting and dealing with the many who visited us and liked to talk to the "senior Stack." My dad, Morton, was also available to welcome collectors who
visited and took his turn tending the counter, along with his cataloging duties.
In this way the family developed many collections, helped collectors who needed assistance, and became friends with those who visited. We had an advantage over dealers with
smaller staffs, as they could not necessarily provide the same level of customer service. We also were able to offer a full-service numismatic experience, as we were a retail
company and an auction house all in one.
Not every auction was a "name sale," as we were also committed to serving smaller consignors. In that situation we would merge collections and create sales that
almost always offered something for everyone. Most of our auctions contained gold, silver and copper coins of the United States, but several times a year we featured Ancient and
world coins and currency for our consignors and collectors whose interest was in those areas.
In 1960, among sales of United States coins, we had the following important collections: James Spaulding White, Charles Neumoyer, and Milton H. Holmes all of which were
comprehensive collections of U.S. coins. The feature sale of 1960 was the Fairbanks Collection. an outstanding cabinet of U.S. silver dollars, starting in 1794 and with many
varieties and choice pieces. Featured was the R. Coulton Davis 1804 dollar. Our auction business was very successful and collectors looked forward to what we would offer next. The
above collections had been assembled over at least two decades, most over a time span much longer than that.
One of the great opportunities I was given was direct involvement in building the Josiah K. Lilly Collection of gold coins, which was started in 1951 by Joseph and Morton. Much
of this project was turned over to me, as both of these older Stacks were not well enough to travel and make the personal deliveries that were required several times a year.
While there were many positive things happening in 1960 at Stack’s and within the hobby, there was still an epidemic of counterfeits flooding the American market,
discouraging many who wanted to begin collecting or add to their holdings. The counterfeiting affected ancient and world coins, but also coins of the United States. After World
War II many United States coins that had been held in banks, museums and vaults in Europe came out of storage and returned to the United States. However, counterfeiters took
advantage of this market and started to make copies of United States as well as world coins of lower carat gold. They would sell these on the U.S. market and make a profit, even
selling them at prices that were less than for genuine gold coins.
Because of the intensity of the problem, President Eisenhower signed a restriction on importing gold coins from outside of the United States without them being examined and
determined to be genuine. This was to go into effect immediately. He activated the Office of Gold and Silver Operations and ordered custom houses to stop all shipments of gold
coins and have them examined by members of the Secret Service. The leadership of the Office of Gold and Silver Operation was turned over to Dr. Leland Howard, a longtime member of
the department, who allegedly knew about gold coins. As most shipments at that time came through the Post Office, they were directed first to the examiners before they were
delivered. This sudden restriction on imports discouraged many collectors from trying to get coins from overseas sources and made it more of a hardship to add to collections and
To read the complete articles, see:
Harvey Stack Remembers: Growing up in a Numismatic Family, Part 28 October 2, 2018
Harvey Stack Remembers: Growing up in a Numismatic Family, Part 29 October 16, 2018
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
HARVEY STACK'S NUMISMATIC FAMILY, PART 27 (http://www.coinbooks.org/v21/esylum_v21n39a14.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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