The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 19, Number 23, June 5, 2016, Article 15


In a series of recent blog posts, Harvey Stack wrote about his family's role in helping form the Josiah K. Lilly Collection. Here are excerpts from the first three installments. -Editor

The Josiah K. Lilly Collection

In the spring of 1951, a well-dressed, debonair gentleman came into our shop. He wanted to know if we had any doubloons, from Central and South America to show him. Stack's always maintained a vast and diverse inventory and we took out a few Spanish Colonial gold coins to show him. He introduced himself as Josiah K. Lilly, the chairman of his family's pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company, headquartered in Indianapolis. He explained he had a passion to learn more about the coins that gained their fame during Spanish Colonial days. The coin that was most talked about was the '”doubloon,” or 8 Escudos.

My father, Morton Stack, and my uncle, Joseph B. Stack, were working at the counter that day and began showing J.K. Lilly gold doubloons that we had in stock. These included the somewhat crude early issues, known as cobs due to their somewhat irregular shape. He also examined the various portraits of Spanish kings that appeared on the later issues. Morton and Joseph advised Mr. Lilly that these coins were made and struck in various South American countries, identified by the mintmark on them, and also the assayer’s initials, which gave assurance that the fineness of the gold and weight were verified and therefore official. It was discussed how these were used in trade and also to pay the troops who occupied and ran the countries occupied by the Spanish.

From Stack's stock at the time, we gathered for him 12 different pieces, some from different mints of Central and South America, a cob or two, and for the balance, pieces with the portraits of the various kings of Spain. J.K. Lilly was amazed with what we were able to show him, and he decided to purchase all 12 to start his collection. My father and uncle introduced me to him. I was the only junior Stack in Stack's at the time, as my cousin Benjamin had left to try his luck in Las Vegas, and Norman, his brother, was in military service. Later on, since J.K. Lilly liked personal deliveries to Indianapolis, I became the appointed messenger to him, whenever either senior Stack could not make the trip.

​We gave J.K. Lilly some books on the subject of Spanish American Coins we had, and the one of most importance at the time was the book compiled and written by Wayte Raymond called "Gold Coins of Central and South America." This book proved to be invaluable to anyone who needed information about coins issued from each country in the Spanish Colonial era. It had a detailed tabulated listing of all the known denominations and dates, from the 8 Escudos (doubloon) down to the 1 Escudo.

Mr. Lilly, after scanning the book, was amazed how many different pieces were made, as well as how skillfully they were produced. He thanked us for our help and information as well as the coins we found for him, and told us we would hear further from him after he reviewed his purchases and studied the information in the books. Within a few weeks after his initial visit, we received a phone call from Mr. Lilly. He expressed his appreciation for the time and assistance we offered during his visit, and for the books and literature we provided. He let us know he was fascinated by the coins and asked us to find more for him. He wanted to expand his Doubloon collection with different dates and mintmarks, and see how many more we could assemble for him.

Mr. Lilly concluded, after reviewing the Raymond reference text and tabulation, that there were close to 500 different dates and mints originally struck, and that he would be willing to expand his collection by another 75 or 100 pieces. He asked if we could do it. We, of course, said we would do our best, and also try to keep the prices within an acceptable range. He thanked us and let us know that he would be back in New York in the fall on his way to Palm Beach. Our response was to assure him that as a valued customer we would work diligently on his project to find the coins he wished to add to his collection.

In the late fall of 1951 Josiah K Lilly stopped off at Stack's on his way to Palm Beach for the winter. (Mrs. Lilly liked to make the stop in New York to do her shopping and to rest from the first part of their trip).

We showed him what we had assembled, close to 100 different dates and mints of the various Central and South American issues. These were not easy to assemble, for as we searched, our dealer friends thought this was a good time to raise their prices. Stack's became their own major competitor for these coins. During the summer we had sent out inquires to many dealers to get quotes and lists of what they had for sale. Of course, this information found its way to others as well and the demand made this a "hot series," so up went the price. We refused to buy at these inflated prices, for it was our obligation to our client to keep the prices in line with the general market conditions...

Mr. Lilly explained to us that he wanted a single representative (dealer), as he knew if he had a few, it might add up to competition as he might end up bidding against himself. He asked us to continue locating doubloons for him, and he would see us in the spring of 1952 to review what we had accomplished. We, of course, agreed to continue our search.

This was the beginning of Stack’s helping J.K. Lilly to establish his collection in the future, to become one of WORLD CLASS.

This story of Stack’s part in building the J.K. Lilly Collection will continue in Part 4.

To read the complete articles, see:
Building a World Class Numismatic Gold Coin Collection: The Josiah K. Lilly Collection Part 1 (
Building a World Class Numismatic Gold Coin Collection: The Josiah K. Lilly Collection Part 2 (
Building a World Class Numismatic Gold Coin Collection: The Josiah K. Lilly Collection Part 3 (

For more of Harvey's reminiscences, listen to his new CoinWeek podcast interview with Charles Morgan:
CoinWeek Podcast #30: The Harvey Stack Mega Podcast (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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