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
installments four and five. -Editor
The Hobby House at Eagle's Nest
In the spring of 1952 Mr. Lilly visited Stack’s to review what we had shown him earlier and to examine other coins we had assembled for
him. He also discussed naval history and the explorations made by nations other than Spain in the 15th to 19th centuries. He was fascinated
by the story that was developing as the ships traveled west across the Atlantic. He asked what kind of coinage did countries like England,
France, Portugal and Italy make from the gold they assembled trading between Europe and the Americas.
We showed him examples from each country, as Stack's always maintained a good representation of world coins on hand, and he examined
them and said he would be in touch to let us know how he wished to proceed.
Late in May of 1952 he contacted us and asked if we could hand deliver what we had already acquired for him and bring along the group of
English and French coins we had shown him. Since the shipment was quite valuable I accompanied my father, Morton, on the trip to make the
Mr. Lilly's secretary called, suggested the flight we should take, made reservations for us at the Indianapolis Athletic Club, made
dinner reservations for us, and advised that Mr. Lilly’s driver would pick us up the following morning at 8:30 AM and take us to see Mr.
Lilly. She also arranged for a late afternoon flight back to New York.
Like clockwork we were met in the Club's lobby, were escorted to a Rolls Royce and were taken to see Mr. Lilly. We knew that he
lived with his wife in a residential park-like area in downtown Indianapolis, which bore the name "Oldsfield." However, we
noticed that we were being driven out of town. The chauffeur explained that Mr. Lilly had a personal retreat on the outskirts of
Indianapolis and we would meet with him there.
As we drove, we saw a large forest and the driver announced that we were about to enter the 5,000-acre forest preserve in which Mr.
Lilly built his retreat -- "Eagle’s Nest.” It was beautiful, with stately trees and well kept grounds. A few miles into the forest we
came to buildings made of natural Indiana stone in a clearing within the forest. -- the site of Eagle’s Nest. One large building, we were
told was the Guest House, used by family and friends who stayed on the location for lengthy periods of time. The other immense building was
Mr. Lilly’s retreat, magnificently designed, and with several giant matching pine trees near the driveway to that building.
Mr. Lilly greeted us at the door, welcomed us to "Hobby House" at Eagle's Nest, and gave us a brief, instructive tour. He
talked of his hobbies, which now included collecting gold coins, Revolutionary Rifles and other armament, stamps, seascape paintings, (some
he painted himself), uncut diamonds and rare colored stones. He was also very proud of his library, located in a separate wing and
containing many of the rarest volumes of English and American literature in private hands, together with maps and manuscripts, from
Shakespeare to the early 20th century. He had a magnificent collection of lead toy soldiers, some 5,000 pieces, in cases about his large
Josiah K Lilly was a dedicated collector, who enjoyed his hobbies and devoted time to studying about them. Now we became part of this
collector's love of collecting, as we delivered the gold coins we had found for him, and worked with him to arrange them in the many
trays we had ordered to house his “new hobby."
In the next part of this story I will tell more about our visit and the role Stack’s continued to play in developing this important gold
On to U.S. Gold
On his visit in the spring of 1953 we were able to show him what we had assembled. With the addition of this group his collection of
doubloons would be close to 200 different pieces. He liked what we had done, and asked that we bring them to Indianapolis within a few
weeks, which of course we did.
He then expressed interest in another collecting area: the gold coins of the United States. We explained that we had built collections
for many others. He learned that in 1943 Stack’s had bought all the half eagles, ($5 gold) 1795 to 1929, and eagles ($10 gold) 1795 to
1933, from the Col. E.H.R. Green Collection. Included were hundreds of duplicates, especially in the early issues, before the coin sizes
The first sets of $5 and $10 gold we sold to King Farouk of Egypt, through his personal representative. These were sent by diplomatic
pouch to Cairo. The second set, almost as complete as the first, we sold to an American client, Clifford T . Weihman. The balance of the
dates and duplicates were put into our inventory. Even after we sold the two sets, it was still the largest stock of early coinage in any
dealer’s inventory. We showed Mr. Lilly examples and he said he would think about it.
As he had started collecting with the largest gold Spanish-American coins, he felt he should start with the largest coin of the United
States, the $20 gold double eagle. Mr. Lilly asked, "How many different are there?" We told him there were 199. He replied that
it would take some time to assemble that many pieces. We told him about a collector in Texas who might consider selling his set of $20 gold
coins. He expressed his interest and suggested we inquire about it and if possible let him know on his return to New York in the fall.
After he left for Indianapolis we started our pursuit of double eagles.
In early May I again traveled with my father, Morton, to Indianapolis, following the established system and delivered what we had
acquired over the previous winter.
At Eagle’s Nest, Mr. Lilly showed us again his growing collection of lead soldiers. Each group had five to seven soldiers lined up, showing
the foot soldier, the flag bearer, the drummer, the officer in charge, and sometimes the general. Each was accurately fashioned into the
proper uniform of that division, each with the appropriate hat, the proper sashes and epaulets in place, the correct color for a dress
parade. He had over 4,500 soldiers, ranging from the Green Mountain Boys, to Colonial soldiers, to post-Revolution federal troops, through
the decades before the Civil War. There were examples wearing the various uniforms of the Blue and the Grey and (which were often different
as each regiment had its own designs and hats, yet basically in the colors of the North or South) continuing to the First World War. It was
a view of history, in miniature.
These lead soldiers were amazing when you saw them all displayed before you. Mr. Lilly had employed the finest maker of lead soldiers,
who resided in Philadelphia to make and complete his collection. Dedicated collector that he was, Mr. Lilly personally researched the
appropriate uniforms for each regiment he portrayed. As with all his hobbies, he researched them carefully, and engaged only qualified
experts to guide him.
OK, the rich really ARE different. But what a way to live and collect! -Editor
To read the complete articles, see:
Building a World Class Numismatic Gold Coin Collection: The
Josiah K. Lilly Collection Part 4 (www.stacksbowers.com/News/Pages/Blogs.aspx?ArticleID=2128)
Building a World Class Numismatic Gold Coin Collection: The
Josiah K. Lilly Collection Part 5 (www.stacksbowers.com/News/Pages/Blogs.aspx?ArticleID=2150)
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
BUILDING THE JOSIAH K. LILLY COLLECTION
Wayne Homren, Editor
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