Harvey Stack's Stack's Bowers blog series focuses on growing up in a numismatic family. Here are parts 23-25. Nothing beats a report on numismatic events and
personalities direct from someone who was there to witness them in person. Thanks, Harvey! -Editor
Part 23: 1955-1956
Stack's continued to hold auctions, including at conventions for the Metropolitan New York Numismatic Association as well as the New England Numismatic Association. Of mention
were several major collections such as the Lenox Lohr Collection of U.S. Coins featuring Proof coins, as well as many type coins. We also sold the B. Frank Collection, which was
highlighted by an 1876-CC twenty-cent piece, (the first to be available for years). An interesting thing happened at the end of that sale. John J. Ford, Jr. came up to me and
said, "You guys had a number of bidders on the 1876-CC twenty cents. Could you place one or two more?" We said we would try. John then took out of his pocket five
examples! Each member of the Stack family took one, and we offered them to the underbidders who were still in the room. We were able to place all five during the post-sale period.
This was one of many interesting experiences I had with John Ford over the many decades we knew each other, both as friendly competitors and working together. This encounter was
just another part of my "growing up."
As I mentioned last week, we offered the Farish Baldenhofer Collection, which was one of the collections I helped build. Many of his coins are proudly referred to today as
classic examples of U.S. series. I had met the consignor at a show in 1949. We became friends, and when he decided to sell I was able to make the auction contract with him. This
collection started with colonials and continued right up to the 1932 $20 gold double eagle, with many rarities along the way. Though not complete it was quite comprehensive, and
it also had the 1884 and 1885 trade dollars. As with so many of the old time holdings that Stack's sold in the 1950s, the coins became part of many fine collections.
During the years 1955 and 1956 Stack's retail business expanded, and I learned a great deal from clients and collectors who visited us in our New York store. These visitors
were very enthusiastic and happy to share knowledge back and forth with those of us who worked in the store, as well as with the other numismatists who gathered there. Developing
and nurturing collectors, both new and old, was our most important goal.
Stack's used to host a group of young collectors from the Pingry School in New Jersey who would make field trips to New York to acquire coins for their collections. It was
a pleasure to watch them select their new additions, and to talk about coins to those of us who were behind the counters. Some only had a small amount to spend, and would do some
chores for us, like sorting coins, putting them into 2 x 2 envelopes, etc. It was fun and exciting to see this generation learn and grow into good numismatists. To this day we
serve some of the graduates of that school many of whom are now advanced collectors. Dealing with the youth was a great learning experience that I will always remember.
During 1955 and 1956 we were able to obtain addition rare and unusual gold coins to add to the Josiah K. Lilly Collection. We acquired more doubloons, coins of England and
France, early dates of Spain and the German States, as well as a number of coins from Scandinavia, the Far East, and the Ancient World.
We also continued to pursue the $20 gold collection of Robert Schermerhorn of Dallas, Texas, which had been promised to us when he was ready to sell his collection. In the
spring of 1956 Bob called and said he was ready to sell, if possibly privately. We negotiated a price and then J.K. Lilly bought it.
Though not absolutely complete, it was an outstanding array of coins, mostly in Mint State and Proof, with but a dozen or so still missing. Mr. Lilly was pleased and told us to
go out and "fill the missing holes," which of course we did. When I would deliver his new purchases to him in Indianapolis he always discussed his collection, and the
desire to improve on it. At one of those meetings we discussed United States Pioneer and Territorial gold coins, one series I was very fond of and had extensively researched. He
decided to build a collection of this rare and very historical series, from the $l gold Bechtler coins to the $50 California "slugs." This was a great opportunity for me
to immerse myself in a series that I loved, as I felt the monetary history of the growth of the United States was so closely tied to these coins.
As you can see, being able to work directly on a major collections and continuing my research moved me from a basic dealer to an advanced numismatist. I helped build new
collections, worked with developing collectors, had direct contact with specialists in most series, and expanded my abilities in the hobby. Working in the store, preparing
auctions, and meeting other numismatists provided experience that I could not have obtained anywhere else.
I was very lucky to grow up in this learning environment, a model that the Stack family adopted and encouraged. It would be hard to find the same situation now. Today I enjoy
passing on what I have earned and hope to encourage others to dedicate themselves to numismatics, as I did.
Part 23: 1957
By 1957 I had about 10 years of experience, full time, at Stack's which exposed me to an active retail trade in coins, dynamic public auctions and vibrant mail bid sales. In
addition, I had experienced meeting clients from yesteryear as well as those currently building or selling their collections. I had learned much about the art of auction
cataloging and price list presentation and along the way greatly expanded my numismatic expertise. All of these things, along with the help and encouragement of the very good
professional staff at Stack’s, greatly enhanced my skills as a professional numismatist. This exposure, provided by our shop in the heart of New York City, gave me the benefits of
a numismatic culture that would be hard to find in the 21st century.
I also attended many coin shows nationwide, and even went to Europe for some sales. I was trained in all series, from Ancient coins to items of the modern era, covering all
metals and currency that were actively collected.
Starting about 1957 there was a new direction and interest in the coin collecting hobby. The earlier years of this decade, while having some momentum driven by collectors,
seemed dominated by speculators buying late date Proof sets, 1936-1942, and 1950 to 1957, as well as full Mint State rolls of current issues, thinking these would grow
significantly in value. That bubble started to burst around 1957 and the prices of these items dropped. This had an adverse effect even on earlier United States coins. From 1950
to 1957 the number of Proof sets struck at the Mint went from 50,000 to over 2,200,000. The Mint sold these sets at $2.10 each, and they were grabbed up by speculators as the
"way to make money." Unfortunately, the number of collectors in the country who wanted Proof sets for their collections never reach that number and so all those that
were put away were not placed in individual collections. There was never enough demand to make these sets sustain the speculation.
However, at the same time, collectors who had started their collections prior to World War II returned to collecting and bought more classic issues. In addition, new collectors
began collecting coins from change, housing them simply in low cost albums. These beginning numismatists then expanded to rarer coins, and also encouraged their children to take
up the hobby.
Adding to this portion of the market was the availability of collections built before World War II, brought about as those collectors either passed away or lost interest in
maintaining their collections. Many of these were sold outright to dealers or were sold for the client at public auction. So, returning and new collectors had "fresh
coins" to add to their cabinets. In this way, the hobby turned back to collecting, while it backed away from the speculative fever of the earlier 1950s.
During this period we served many dedicated collectors and helped them grow their collections with desirable coins. In addition we had the pleasure of helping beginning
collectors who became interested in the hobby. Through our store we attracted many great collectors, some of whom are now numismatic legends. We worked on historic collections
including the Louis E. Eliasberg Collection (improving the grades of some of his coins), and the various Josiah K. Lilly coin collections. We were busy, almost every day and night
working with collectors and preparing auction catalogs, while still acquiring and stocking coins for sale over the counter. 1957 was also an important year for auctions, as I will
discuss in my next article.
Part 23: 1957 Auctions
We began the year of 1957 with the J.W. Schmandt Collection, which had numerous rarities including Kellogg and Wass Molitor $50 slugs,(the two round coins of California Pioneer
days), a $4 Stella (Coiled Hair), 1796 and 1808 quarter eagles, 1933 $10 gold, a run of rare date double eagles including 1926-S and D, 1927-S and D, 1930-S, 1931-D and 1932.
Plus, there was an extensive offering of earlier silver and copper.
Among the other auction offerings were the D.H, Smith Collection and the Empire Collection (the collector C.A. Cass didn't want his name) that had been started by this
gentleman’s family in 1885, and featured a very choice 1792 half disme, an 1894-S dime, an 1876-CC 20-cent piece, 1838-O, 1847/6, and 1853-O No Arrows half dollars and a choice
1794 $1. It also included virtually a complete set of dates and mints from 1793 to 1956 in Proof and Mint State condition. It provided another outstanding pedigree collection.
These sales attracted many collectors and dealers from all over the country.
I am sometimes asked why some sales were give names other than the name of the person who assembled the collections. The reason is simple: some people wanted to collect
privately and enjoy the hobby quietly. They did not want notoriety or open themselves up to be hounded for loans. We abided by their wishes and used "nom de plumes " in
order to protect the owners’ real identities.
The year 1957 was marred by one factor that caused some disruption in gold coin collecting. A number of years before, counterfeits appeared in the marketplace, as coins which
were considered "charms" became very popular and oversea counterfeiters started to flood the market with lower cost gold coins, made overseas and shipped here. In the
beginning when these coins appeared in jewelry stores, pawn shops and even coin dealer show cases, the Secret Service tried and did apprehend a number of distributors and their
customers. But the overseas imports became overwhelming. Dealers like Stack's who could readily detect these counterfeits helped identify the false coins which the agents
brought to us to help them make their cases. Many were caught, indicted and tried in Federal court. The professional dealers acted as expert witnesses to help convict the owners
and importers. We thought for sure that our efforts would stop those who imported these counterfeits, but there were too few agents and too many abusers. This went on for a number
of years. It was important for us to help stop these importers, as we wanted to be able to provide greater assurance to our clients. Our business in gold continued to grow.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
HARVEY STACK'S NUMISMATIC FAMILY, PARTS 20-22 (http://www.coinbooks.org/v21/esylum_v21n28a18.html)
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