Harvey Stack's Stack's Bowers blog series focuses on growing up in a numismatic family. Here are parts 20-22. Thanks,
Harvey! Nothing beats a report on numismatic events and personalities direct from someone who was there to witness them in person. -Editor
Part 20: 1955
The year 1955 began, and it would prove to be another incredible year.
Early in January, my cousin Norman Stack returned from his tour of duty in the Army, after being stationed in Germany. He was back on board at the
shop and ready to pursue the job he left in 1951, when he was drafted because of the Korean War.
Norman was a great cataloger and numismatist, and my father Morton welcomed him back with open arms. Norman could now help out our staff in
preparing catalogs, as well as help me manage the daily operations of the firm.
We all got to work preparing catalogs for the 1955 spring auctions, making new price lists and serving our clients. In late winter, Benjamin Stack
(Norman's brother and my cousin), contacted his father, Joseph, to say he would like to return to New York to rejoin the company. His venture in
Las Vegas had not been successful and he had closed the operation there. It seems that all he got from Las Vegas was a chance to watch some atomic
bomb tests. Joseph spoke to my father, and after some family discussions, it was decided that Ben should return to the firm. As my father had 50% of
the company, he was able to give me 25% and retain 25% for himself. Norman proposed that if Joe would do the same, Norman and Ben would split 25%,
and each have 12.5%. Ben was very appreciative of what Norman and their father did for him.
I spent most of my time getting Norman back up to speed, including making him fully aware of our dealings with J.K. Lilly and the other important
customers we served.
When he got back, Ben reacquainted himself with the general operations of Stack's. Whenever he was not needed in the store, he would go out on
the road to try find consignments. He was successful in reaching out and establishing contacts with clients he had served before 1952.
Early in the spring of 1955 we talked to Clifford T. Weihman, whose foreign gold collection we had sold a few years earlier. We inquired whether
he was willing to sell, intact, his collections of $5 and $10 gold coins, both of which were quite extensive in dates and mintmarks.
We told Cliff, who was a close friend of the Stack family (he attended my wedding in 1949), that we had a client who would be interested in buying
both sets outright. It seems that J.K. Lilly had done some homework, and had read about the Brand Collection of Chicago, the Farouk Collection of
Egypt, and the Eliasberg Collection of Baltimore. Through his reading he learned that these collectors had built their cabinets by purchasing major
sections of their collections outright (as Cliff had bought the gold coins from the Col. Green Collection via Stack's in 1944). Mr. Lilly felt that
if he could get major parts of each series he would not have so many spaces to fill that required waiting for coins to come on the market.
Cliff Weihman liked the idea of passing on the Col. Green coins to another collector who was trying to build a world class collection. We worked
with Weihman in valuing the sets (which he had owned for over 11 years) and came up with a fair market value for both buyer and seller. The deal was
struck. My father and I personally delivered the sets to Mr. Lilly in early summer 1955. These sets, which Stack's had considered the second sets of
these gold coins from the Col. Green Collection, were lacking a few of the very rare pieces that had been in the first set of Col. Green coins, which
had been sold to King Farouk. But Mr. Lilly was pleased to get this head start on his U.S. gold collection and appreciated the challenge that came
along with filling in the missing pieces.
Stack's was aware that the famous Amon Carter, Jr. Collection of United States gold had some great rarities (including an 1822 half eagle),
even though the collection was not complete. Amon was a major stockholder in American Airlines and the family owned among other things, the Fort
Worth Star Telegram. Amon would visit Stack's in New York a number of times each year. After Mr. Lilly bought the Weihman gold sets, every time
Amon stopped in or one of the Stacks would see him at a numismatic event, we always said to him: "We have a great collector who has quite an
advanced half eagle collection and your 1822 will fill out his set." Amon responded: " If I decide to sell my coin I promise to give you
the first chance on it," and he then chomped on his cigar, which he smoked incessantly.
It might surprise many collectors today who read about rare and choice coins selling for millions of dollars. If look back at the coin market of
over 60 years ago in the 1950s, few sold for over $1,000, a few brought over $500, some sold for over $100, and the majority brought under $100.
After all gold was only $35 an ounce, and silver was less than a dollar an ounce, just a small fraction of what bullion is worth today. This, of
course, was a determining factor in the prices of collectible coins, as was the fact that there were not as many collectors interested in gold coins
at the time.
Part 21: Numismatics in the 1950s
Numismatics grew all through the 1950s. Many of the servicemen who were collectors before World War 2 returned home, settled down to their regular
jobs, started to raise families and re-entered their hobbies. It was a wonderful to have them rejoin their fellow hobbyists, and renew friendships
from years gone by. The hobby was reinvigorated as they again discovered the fun and relaxation of coin collecting.
However in addition to this normal growth, there was also a speculative fever that emerged during this period. While it added people to the hobby,
it also caused havoc in the market and affected the way one dealt in coins.
Because of the war, the U.S. Mint stopped making special Proof sets for collectors from 1942 until 1950. About 21,000 1942 Proof sets were struck,
and when Proof coinage began again in 1950 the mintage was 51,000 sets, indicating that demand for these sets had more than doubled. Collectors loved
the ability to buy Proof sets that included the cent, nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar directly from the Mint for $2.10. Dealers also paid the
same price, and we kept them in stock to accommodate collectors who wanted them but would rather not send an order for them. We usually priced them
about $3 per set, just to cover cost of purchase, stocking and shipping. But speculation hit the market by 1955 when some 700,000 sets were struck
and sold by the Mint — many, many more than the number of collectors who wanted them.
However, at $2.10 per set these became major speculative items. Collectors and speculators started to buy these in quantity – groups of 5, 10, 50
and even 100 sets from the Mint. The Mint had what appeared to be an unlimited supply. About half of the sets were packed in boxes like the earlier
dates, and the other half were packed in a flat pack envelope. At $2.10 per set, with 91¢ face value and a bright finish, how could you go wrong?
But the trading of bulk groups of Proof sets was initially just another idea for speculators. In addition, by 1955 clients started to buy rolls of
current and near current dates and trade them. Even bags of coins were being offered as an investment. Some dealers began to hoard rolls and bags,
trying to create a market that would bring them big profits. The hype was so great that no one seemed to consider that the numbers struck far
outnumbered the collectors interested in buying them.
It got to the point where Sol Kaplan, a dealer from Ohio set up a board (like that of a bookmaker) at the 1955 ANA Convention. The board recorded
bid and ask prices and created such a furor at the show that the ANA made him stop after a couple of days. At the show, investors and collectors
bought and sold, as bags of coins, rolls of coins, and Proof sets were traded until there were no buyers, only sellers.
I remember that no 1950-D nickels seemed to be available in the marketplace and the price jumped from $10 per roll ($2 face value) to over $100 a
roll. Shortly after the 1955 show was over, a Detroit bank which had received a huge quantity of 1950-D nickels distributed them to their clients and
suddenly the oversupply led to the market dropping like a stone. By the end of 1955, a roll could readily be acquired for very close to the $2 face
The same speculation hit commemorative half dollars that were issued after 1946. Prices for the Iowa Centennial, Booker T. Washington, ?and
Washington Carver issues went up and up, but the prices returned to close to face value within a few years when it was realized that the supply was
sufficient to meet the demand.
This speculation had a negative effect on the market for late issue coins. For me as a young coin dealer it was an important lesson. I learned
that you cannot make something rare, scarce or desirable purely through promotion – by saying it is so. Prices may rise temporarily but the market
will eventually collapse if there is nothing to maintain the demand.
Part 22; Expanding the Staff
Among the reasons for the move from 46th Street to West 57th Street in New York was that more space was needed for our library and foreign coin
business. Also on West 57th Street, about a half a block away from our store, we located a second floor space to house a division called "Coin
Galleries." We were fortunate to be able to get Dr. and Mrs. V. Stefanelli to run it for us. They were scholarly, had a good following among
collectors of foreign and ancient coins, and developed a mail bid auction program for those clients.
Eventually, they were able to move above our shop on the second floor of the building we occupied and so we had them close by. Coin Galleries
provided for us venue that was mainly dedicated to those who collected foreign and ancient coins. We then added to our staff James C. Risk, George
Weyr, Hans Holzer, and John Burnham, each a great numismatist. We had a world class staff for sure!
Stack's Coin Galleries division grew in popularity and we were proud of our staff. However, good things do sometimes come to an end, and even when
the end is friendly there can be disappointment and sadness. Dr. and Mrs. V. Stefanelli were offered the position as curators of the National
Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. To scholars such as them, this was a great honor and came with a great deal
of prestige. We were happy for them and our relationship with them continued for decades.
I was able to learn a lot from the Stefanellis during the time they were at Stack's. The Stack family was later recognized as major donors to the
Smithsonian Collection, and I was honored to be able to call upon them in their capacity as curators for numismatic help and guidance.
During 1955 Stack's continued to present auctions that were aimed at all levels of collectors, those just starting out and those expanding
their collections. We were able to offer many choice and scarce coins of the United States as well important sales of Foreign and Ancient coins. In
the early part of 1955 we had several smaller auctions, which were well attended by a developing following. In the spring we offered some important
name collections including the C.R. Smith Collection and the Frank Limpert Collection. In the fall we were the auctioneers for the New England
Numismatic Convention sale, conducted in Connecticut. And, we ended the year with the famous Farish Baldenhofer Collection of choice and very rare
coins from the United States in gold, silver and copper. It was the highlight auction of the year and was attended by collectors from all over the
country who bid for rarities and established new records for the period.
To read the complete articles, see:
Harvey Stack Remembers: Growing up in a Numismatic Family, Part 20 June
14, 2018 (http://www.stacksbowers.com/News/Pages/Blogs.aspx?ArticleID=2998)
Harvey Stack Remembers: Growing up in a Numismatic Family, Part 21, June
28, 2018 (http://www.stacksbowers.com/News/Pages/Blogs.aspx?ArticleID=3016)
Harvey Stack Remembers: Growing up in a Numismatic Family, Part 22 July
10, 2018 (http://www.stacksbowers.com/News/Pages/Blogs.aspx?ArticleID=3036)
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
Wayne Homren, Editor
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