Building the World-Class Josiah K. Lilly Collection, by Harvey Stack

By Harvey StackFounder, Stack’s Bowers ……
 

CoinWeek continues to post Harvey Stack’s wonderful series of blogs on not only the building of one of the all-time greatest coin collections but also how the relationship between Josiah K. Lilly and the Stack family grew over time. This week’s entry compiles parts 29 and 30, available on the Stacksbowers.com blog. If you’re new to the series, you can start here, at Part 1. Or if you just need to catch up, here’s a link to the most recent issue, Part 14

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The death of Josiah K. Lilly in May of 1966 marked the passing of a great collector and benefactor. As a collector he was interested in many fields and was fascinated by the history behind the objects he acquired. He also wanted to share his collections and knowledge. During his lifetime he made donations to Indiana University and other institutions and after his death he was the benefactor of many.

His home, Oldsfield, was given to the Indianapolis Museum and Gardens in 1967. The family retained residence there until 2009. It is now open to the public.

Mr. Lilly’s extensive library was given to Indiana University, some during his lifetime and more after his death. This included some 20,000 pieces of literature and 17,000 manuscripts, including a Gutenberg Bible and an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. The Lilly Collection of 5,000 soldiers in original dress from pre-revolutionary days to the first World War and his collection of Revolutionary rifles, muskets and other revolutionary artifacts were both given to the Heritage Museum and Gardens. This museum was established in Sandwich, Massachusetts, after Lilly’s death by his sons and also contains his Nautical Art Collection.

Eagle’s Nest, his hobby house outside of Indianapolis, was given to Purdue University. Most of the land surrounding it, about 5,000 acres, was given to the Indianapolis Historical Society to save as a park. Josiah K. Lilly was one of the greatest philanthropists of his day. His wife and children continued the Lilly endowments, which over the years have totaled close to a billion dollars.

The gold coin collection that Stack’s had the honor of helping Mr. Lilly build over a period of 16 years was in a class by itself. About a month after he passed away, we received a call from Paul Rawley, chief estate officer of the Merchant’s National Bank and Trust Company who were the executors of the estate of J.K. Lilly. Mr. Rawley wanted Stack’s to provide an inventory of the collection of gold coins of the world that comprised over 6,000 pieces. He then wanted us to do an appraisal and provide some method of distribution. We were of course happy to do the checking of the inventory, and as we had maintained a strict card file of his collection as it grew in our offices, it would not be difficult to review the collection.

After further conversations with Mr. Rawley about the appraisal and our services as auctioneers, we were advised that according to Indiana Law and Custom, the appraiser couldn’t be the seller. That was disappointing to us, but we understood.

Although Stack’s was not sure what would eventually happen to the collection after the appraisal, we did not want to lose the possibility of selling it at auction or by private sale so we asked to be removed as an appraiser. However, we were pleased to be the ones who inventoried the collection. We suggested Abe Kosoff to appraise the United States coins, and Hans Schulman to appraise the Foreign and Ancient collections.

In early August of 1966, my cousin Norman Stack and I went to Indianapolis to work on the inventory. Norman had not seen all the coins we sold Mr. Lilly from 1951 to 1955 as he had been in the military stationed in Germany most of that time. Of course, when the collections were seen in total, it was amazing. Special black box after black box, each holding up to 144 gold coins, were brought into the large conference room at the bank, and we worked constantly for almost three full days. We had to verify the inventory, which would eventually be typed on a listing so that the appraisers and the bank had reference material.

As noted, Norman had not seen much of the collection. He had never seen the sets of $1, $2.50, $3, and $4 gold, we got from the Anderson DuPont collections. He was aware of the Clifford Weihman $5 and $10 gold coins, but had not seen them for a decade or more when we had them at Stack’s. And he had never seen the double eagles, a set that was also almost complete. The basic collection of pioneer and Territorial coins was also new for him to see. Of course, he was part of the team after 1955 and was aware of the items that had been acquired after that time. As a numismatist who understood the importance of completeness and quality, he was amazed at what Stack’s and Mr. Lilly had been able to amass.

Using a file card system we developed for the Lilly collection, Norman and I spent several days checking off each coin. A few times they were out of order, or in another tray (the coins that measured over two inches in diameter did not fit in the standard trays). It was a revealing job for Norman and an exciting job for me. It was a wonderful opportunity to see once again the collection in total!

A few weeks after we visited the collection in the bank vault we had the inventory typed so it could be used by Abe and Hans for computing the total value of the collection. With the information in our inventory (including pedigree and source of acquisition), as well as our examination of each and every coin, the job of appraising was made somewhat easier for them.

Yet the appraisal took longer than expected. Each of them took time to check and research each item; many were so rare that it took awhile to find the reference material and check auction records. In some cases they had to go back a decade or more to provide the information required for the estate.

About five months after we submitted the inventory, Kosoff and Schulman submitted their appraisals.
 

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