CoinWeek presents Harvey Stack's blog series "Building the Josiah K. Lilly Collection"

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 31 and 32, 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 15

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After his passing, and with the permission of Mr. Rawley, we were permitted to use the Lilly name in advertising. Before then, Stack’s had kept the identity of Josiah K. Lilly a secret, as this is how Mr. Lilly wanted it. In the fall of 1966 we placed a series of ads that were worded like this:

The secret that isn’t secret anymore! For 16 years (1951 to 1966) Stack’s was secretly building the most outstanding collection of United States, foreign and ancient gold coins ever assembled in the United States if not the world!

It was formed by the late Josiah K. Lilly, who dedicated his collecting skills and avocation to forming a world class gold coin collection. Stack’s is proud that Mr. Josiah K. Lilly selected us to help him collect and develop this collection.

After the ads appeared we received numerous calls about the final disposition of this superb collection. We responded that it would be determined later.

One of the calls came from curator of the Smithsonian National Numismatic Collection, Dr. Vladimir Clain-Stefanelli. He asked if we could get him an invitation to examine the collection and even to record the contents. He was invited to see it and did so, accompanied by his wife Elvira, who was also a curator of the National Collection. They worked for several days, making notes and commenting that they had not known or heard of a collection of this scope and quality ever formed in the world.

Their basic opinion was that the collection was so extensive and of such great quality, scope and value, that it should not be broken up but should be kept together, possibly through it being acquired by the Smithsonian. Wow! This was a great compliment, but somewhat of a disappointment as we were hoping to be awarded the sale by auction. If the collection were not to be placed on the numismatic market, Stack’s would lose the possibility of selling it. It would be available for study, examination, and comparison by students and collectors, but no collectors would be able to add pieces to their collections.

The question was: how would the government acquire this?

The J.K. Lilly Collection of World Gold Coins contained:

  • 1,227 Coins of the United States, (incl. 153 Pioneer and Territorial Gold coins)
  • 1,236 Latin American gold coins
  • 3,237 Gold Coins of Europe
  • 243 Gold Coins of the Near and Far East
  • 38 Ancient Gold Coins of Greece
  • 60 Gold Coins of Ancient Rome

A Grand Total of 6,115 Gold Coins of the World (with no duplicates).

The Clain-Stefanellis took all their notes, and went back to Washington to lobby the officials of the Smithsonian, the Friends of the Smithsonian, and various congressmen who liked numismatics… anyone who might help to keep the collection intact.

It took over 16 years to build the Josiah K. Lilly Collection into a world class collection. After Josiah K. Lilly’s death in 1966, Paul Rawley, Trust Officer at the Merchants National Bank in Indianapolis was given the long and difficult job of getting all of the Lilly collections inventoried and appraised. Mr. Rawley took a personal and direct interest in making sure the collections were distributed as directed.

As noted earlier, Dr. and Mrs. Clain-Stefanelli had examined the Lilly Collection and believed that such an extensive, quality collection should not be broken up. They worked to get the coins from the collection preserved as part of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution. He approached the chiefs and top executives at the Smithsonian and, at the suggestion of Paul Rawley, he also went to the congressmen and senators from Indiana. They agreed with the recommendations from Dr. and Mrs. Stefanelli and they said they would permit proposal of a bill before Congress to acquire the Lilly Collection for the National Coin Collection. But, of course, they wanted to see the result of the collection’s appraisal.

The list of individual coins in the J.K. Lilly gold collection was appraised at $4.5 million. This may not seem like much in the 21st century, but the value of gold in 1966 was about $35 per ounce, thus the base value without any numismatic premium was much lower than it would be today. This was especially important for the more common coins. Additionally, at the time the demand for the major rarities was not as great as it is today.

However, the appraisers increased the value of the entire collection to $5.5 million based on its vast size and completeness. Such a collection would be so difficult to duplicate that its value was more than the sum of its parts.

The valuation was approved by the executor and later by the IRS. Then the bill for the acquisition of the Lilly Gold Coin Collection was set forth. It was done in an unusual way, so that it would benefit the estate while giving the Smithsonian this world class collection.

The bill provided first for the removal of the collection from the estate’s assets, as if it had been given before J.K. Lilly’s death. The bill also provided for a tax credit of the appraised amount. These benefits reflected that the collection was a unique opportunity to enhance the National Numismatic Collection with incredible coins in the United States, Ancient and Foreign series.
 

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