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Building a World Class Numismatic Gold Coin Collection: The Josiah K. Lilly Collection, Pt. 5


By Harvey StackFounder, Stack’s Bowers ……
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

In my last article (see Part 4, above), I told of being with Josiah Lilly when he learned that the polio vaccine his company had been working on was approved for use. Here I continue with my story of this important day.

At lunch that day, we talked about the approval of the vaccine, and he explained to me that Eli Lilly & Co. could not patent the formula; it was such an important drug that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) wanted to get it out worldwide. But, Mr. Lilly explained, since his company had the lead on development they would be able to deliver the majority of production for the first year or two. He told me how much effort it had taken to back Jonas Salk in developing the vaccine, testing and retesting it. It was gratifying to know that the tremendous effort was worth it.

His personal excitement was further revealed when he told me about his father, who was in charge of the company just before World War I when the Lilly company developed Insulin. In 1914 they were the first to successfully manufacture the medication. Similar to what happened with the Polio vaccine the company could not patent it — it was too important. So the government gave the company one year exclusive, and then turned the patent over to all drug manufacturers. Mr. Lilly’s father, who felt that a year’s lead would let them become the major distributor of the medicine, did not object.

However, World War I broke out, and the vaccine was needed worldwide, as well as in America. Because of its importance, every ship going from America to Europe that bore the Red Cross on it was not attacked, and therefore was able to transport the medication and alone saved millions of lives. Mr. Lilly said to me at lunch that he wished his father was alive to see the Polio vaccine, as he would have been honored that the firm was the first to develop it.

I was honored to have been taken into the confidence of this gentleman, and to have been able to share the joy of it.

After lunch, we continued putting his new additions in order and reviewed the acquisition of the Weihman collection again. We also added about 40 to 50 doubloons to his collection, which was becoming the most complete Spanish Colonial Doubloon assemblage ever put together. The Foreign Gold collection was growing in all denominations.

We finished our work in late afternoon, prepared a want list for certain U.S. varieties, and Mr. Lilly bid me a warm farewell and got me to my return flight. He thanked me for the dedication of the Stack family in helping him achieve the goal of world-class collection. He remarked that when he came to Stack’s in 1951 he felt that we were the ones whom he wanted to work with him on his collection; he appreciated our dedication to numismatics.

During the balance of the spring and summer of 1955 we continued to seek out more missing links for the Lilly Collection.

According to the Wayte Raymond’s Catalog of Spanish American Gold Coins, there were over 500 Doubloons from Central and South America, since most countries had several mints near the respective gold sources. We searched auction sales and dealer price lists for possible additions. We wrote to collectors to ask if they wanted to sell their collections or duplicates and let them know we were working on a major collection.

We continued our acquisitions, advising Mr. Lilly during the summer and early fall of our progress. In the U.S. series we needed only a few early half eagles and eagles as the Weihman Collection was quite complete. However, we knew acquiring these rarer dates would take time. With the Schermerhorn Collection and other finds, among the $20 gold coins all we needed was a 1926-S to be complete from 1850 to 1932. With the number of scarce dates of the Saint-Gaudens design being found in banks in Europe, we were astonished that we could not find a 1926-S to complete the set.

It was puzzling to be unable to find this date as several million were struck, similar to those in the general time frame, but the others were available from the overseas banks. We assumed the 1926-S double eagles must exist somewhere.

In the fall of the year we ran several ads in The Numismatist stating: “$500 Reward for anyone who can tell us where we can find and purchase a 1926-S double eagle ($20 gold) for $3,000.” The price we offered, together with the reward, was substantially above the suggested market value as published at the time. But we had to do something to flush out an example.

When J.K. Lilly made his customary visit to Stack’s on his way to Florida late that fall, we told him of our actions and he said that he too wanted to finish that set. We discussed the new coins we acquired, and he liked our progress. He asked what could be added to his collection to make it more complete than others had attained. We suggested that he could consider adding the Pioneer and Territorial Coins of the United States, and even go back the ancient and medieval world and the gold coins that were part of those monetary systems.

He asked how far back, and we told him of coins of Lydia struck in 700 B.C., and also a few gold staters of Greece and some denarii of Ancient Rome. In fact, we had in stock in our showcase a set of Roman gold struck by the 12 Caesars that really intrigued him. He decided that we should go back as far as we could.

J.K. Lilly departed, after thanking us for the progress we had made and also for keeping his collecting endeavors private, which of course we had done from the very first day. He bid us a warm goodbye, wished us a good winter and asked that we make our customary late spring delivery to Indianapolis.

Stack's Bowers
Stack's Bowershttps://stacksbowers.com/
Stack's Bowers Galleries conducts live, internet, and specialized auctions of rare U.S. and world coins and currency and ancient coins, as well as direct sales through retail and wholesale channels. The company's 90-year legacy includes the cataloging and sale of many of the most valuable United States coin and currency collections to ever cross an auction block — The D. Brent Pogue Collection, The John J. Ford, Jr. Collection, The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection, The Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, The Joel R. Anderson Collection, The Norweb Collection, The Cardinal Collection, The Sydney F. Martin Collection, and The Battle Born Collection — to name just a few. World coin and currency collections include The Pinnacle Collection, The Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. Collection of World Gold Coins, The Kroisos Collection, The Alicia and Sidney Belzberg Collection, The Salton Collection, The Wa She Wong Collection, and The Thos. H. Law Collection. The company is headquartered in Costa Mesa, California with galleries in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Offices are also located in New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Hong Kong, Paris, and Vancouver.

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