By Harvey Stack – Founder, Stack’s Bowers ……
On our visit to Eagle’s Nest to deliver the gold coins we had assembled for Mr. Lilly and that he had examined during his visit to Stack’s in spring 1954, my father and I were able to examine more closely the growing collection of lead soldiers, his nautical art collection and a small section of his magnificent library.
The museum atmosphere at Eagle’s Nest was a treat in itself. J.K. Lilly’s collection was arranged in several rooms and provided a rare experience. He told us stories about his “adventures” in collecting and how he tried to preserve items for future viewing and study.
When we returned to New York, we contacted Clifford T. Weihman who owned collections of $5 and $10 coins extracted from the holdings of E.H.R. Green. We inquired if he was interested in selling his collections to J.K. Lilly who was building a world-class gold coin collection that would be greatly enhanced by this addition. Cliff Weihman asked us how the Farouk Sale had gone and did we have any prices to guide him if he were to sell. We explained to Weihman, that because of the restrictions placed by the Egyptian Government, participation was geared toward dealers and thus the Farouk sale reflected dealer values more than collector values.
Cliff understood. He told us he would consider selling, if there could be a normal profit added to the prices the Farouk Collection pieces had achieved at auction. He admitted to my father and uncle that after he sold his foreign gold collection with Stack’s in 1951, he had moved on to collect not coins but wines. He was so active in the Grand Chevalier Society, (the foremost fine wine collectors in the world) that he was willing to consider making the sale to Lilly – if he could get a fair price.
We reviewed all the records, compared the quality of the coins in each collection (Farouk vs. Weihman) and suggested a price that Weihman agreed sounded fair.
At Stack’s we spent days preparing a comparison list for Mr. Lilly and sent it to him for consideration. After a few days we got a call from Mr. Lilly that he would be passing through New York in the fall of 1954 on his way to Florida, and would like to see the Weihman coins.
We arranged with Cliff Weihman to keep his collections in our vaults so they would be ready for examination by Lilly in the fall. We took full-page pictures of the collections of $5 and $10 gold, bound a few sets of actual photographs and had all this ready to show Mr. Lilly on his fall visit. In more recent years these pictures have been used by gold coin specialists to study varieties.
When Mr. Lilly arrived in New York in the fall of 1954 we showed him the Weihman/Col. Green coins. He was amazed at the size of the collections and that the early gold of each series were nearly complete. There were a good number of Mint State examples, together with Proofs, as Col. Green had sometimes collected more than one. A few dates and mints were missing because choice examples had not been available.
Mr. Lilly liked the coins, and when combined with what he had already purchased he would have an almost complete collection of U.S. gold. He remarked that with the lower denomination gold coins from the Anderson-Dupont sale and the $20 double eagles from Robert Schermerhorn, he was well on his way toward completion of a United States gold collection. He went on to say, “I believe I decided to collect world gold and United States gold at the right moment as I have been able to take advantage of the skills of those who owned these coins before me, and Stack’s ability to acquire them.” Once again he asked us to set the coins aside and he would arrange for delivery in the spring of 1955.
After he examined the coins from the Weihman Collection we also showed him further Spanish Colonial and other European coins that we had located for his collection. After chatting about his other collecting interests, he left for Florida after wishing us a Happy Thanksgiving.
In early spring, 1955, Mr. Lilly stopped at the Stack’s shop as he was passing through New York from his winter in Florida and looked once more at the Clifford T. Weihman collection of U.S. $5 and $10 gold, plus the foreign gold coins (especially the doubloons we were able to assemble). We had an enjoyable in-depth discussion about them and when Mr. Lilly left he told us that his secretary would call to set up the date for delivery to Eagle’s Nest.
The date was set for April 12 and I arranged for flights and his secretary made the customary reservation for me at the Indianapolis Athletic Club. On the morning of April 12, Mr. Lilly’s chauffeur picked me up to take me out to Eagle’s Nest. As it had been a mild winter that year and the spring flowers and trees were already in bloom. Mr. Lilly met me at the door as we drove up, and we proceeded to his study room inside his “Hobby House”. We unpacked and started to review the coins I brought with me (this trip I traveled alone as my uncle was on the road gathering a few collections, and my father stayed in the shop to deal with the daily business).
Since I had been keeping the inventory of the growing gold coin collection, I was able to provide all the information that Mr. Lilly wanted. As we worked on the collection in the early part of the day, Mr. Lilly said that though he liked to devote his time and attention to us on our delivery dates, he was expecting a call about 11 AM and would have to excuse himself for it. I was with Mr. Lilly when the call came.
Mr. Lilly took the call in the room adjoining where we were working and arranging the new purchases. I heard him say, “That’s wonderful. I am glad after all the work we did and the time it took to be approved, it was.” There was additional conversation, and then Mr. Lilly hung up, and walked back into our workroom with a warm smile.
He walked over to where I was working and said: “History was made to day. I just learned that the FDA has approved our vaccine to fight polio and authorized us to proceed in producing it for the market. Millions of children will be saved from this crippling disease.”
I stood up, shook his hand, which had a slight tremor, and congratulated him warmly. It was amazing to be present when Eli Lilly & Co. got the go ahead to produce the polio vaccine. After this short break, we went back to working on the new additions to his collection.
I will tell more about this historic day in my next installment.