By Harvey Stack – Founder, 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 19 and 20, 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 12
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During the later part of 1960 and into 1961 Stack’s continued to locate gold coins of the world to enhance the J.K. Lilly Collection.
Mr. Lilly made his annual fall visit to New York and he came in again in the spring on his return from Florida. He reviewed what we had acquired and talked with us about adding to his collection. Of course he wanted to learn how the import regulations would affect our ability to get the coins he needed to keep his collection growing.
As mentioned earlier, during the administrations of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, the influx of counterfeit gold coins was hurting the buyers in the United States. The Treasury Department put the Office of Gold and Silver Operations (OGSO) in charge of controlling this and they instituted a licensing procedure for importation of any gold coin. As described before the procedure varied with each application. Each package that contained gold coins needed a license when arriving or carried into the United States. The coins could be held at custom houses around the country until a license was issued. Because the OGSO did not publish the requirements and what the criteria would be for a license, Stack’s searched within the United States for coins rather than fight for each import.
We did quite well the first few months of our purchasing, as many dealers were not fully aware of the import problems and willingly sold us coins from their inventories. But as the availability dropped, it became more difficult to find new and fresh coins to add to the Lilly Collection.
We explained the entire problem to Mr. Lilly and he instructed us to proceed the best we could with the handicap we were encountering in getting new material.
I made our customary delivery to Mr. Lilly at Eagle’s Nest and while there reviewed the progress we had made. He loved to study each coin to learn more about the coins and coin series. He wanted to have a greater understanding of the monetary and political events that were taking place at the time of the minting of each coin in his collection.
During the period of 1962 and 1963 we were fortunate to be able to acquire some very special coins and offer them to Mr. Lilly. From earlier purchases he owed a legendary Brasher doubloon from America’s colonial period. It had come from Charles Green, a Chicago dealer who had links to the extensive Brand collection.
Now we were offered and bought privately the half Brasher doubloon, a unique piece. We learned that it was held in an old-time collection and that it was now for sale. We researched the piece and confirmed it was genuine. We felt and Mr. Lilly agreed that it belonged in the Lilly Collection.
In 1962-1963 we offered for sale the Baldenhofer Collection, a cabinet that included many rare United States gold coins, and had, as part of the early half eagles, three varieties of the 1797. Two of the three varieties found in the Baldenhofer Collection were often found in extensive half eagle collections–the 1797 Small Eagle and the 1797 15 Star Large Eagle–but our research could not find any special reference to the 1797 16 Star Large Eagle. No doubt this variety was struck as the dies for the others wore out! We cataloged it as we saw it, and offered it as part of the sale. Before the sale we learned that this was the only example known of that variety.
We bid on it for the Lilly Collection and purchased it. Now the Lilly Collection was unique in its own way. It had two unique gold coins of the United States and Mr. Lilly was delighted.
As we moved into the early years of the 1960s, opportunities to expand the J.K. Lilly Collection of World Gold Coins became more difficult due to the mandatory licensing requirements. The rules set forth by the Office of Gold and Silver Operations (OGSO) seemed to be restrictive and non-revealing. Leland Howard was in charge of this office keeping counterfeits out of the United States. However, he was not chosen for his numismatic knowledge, as he did not know series, rarities or where to look coins up for identification. No one knew the formula used by the OGSO to approve or deny licenses and often the decisions made by the department seemed arbitrary.
This naturally hampered our ability to supply more coins that was need by J.K. Lilly as well as other collectors. Mr. Lilly, whose company dealt with government agencies extensively, said to us: “Once they understand what they are doing they will ease imports.” He indicated that he could wait while this was resolved. We were lucky to have such an understanding collector, who had waited for other collectibles.
Meanwhile we continued buying from the public, from collectors, from dealers and from any auction that took place.
But all was not resolved for Stack’s as a company. During this time Stack’s was offered a major foreign gold coin collection from the Netherlands that had over 900 coins in it. The client wanted to sell the coins at auction in the United States. Needless to say, we were ecstatic. Included in this collection were a number of coins needed to fill some of the gaps in the J. K. Lilly Collection. So we received a certified listing of the coins in the collection, and immediately filed for a license.
We thought that a collection of this size and scope would be instantly recognized as being numismatic material. However, the OGSO required that all the coins be looked at separately, resulting in time-consuming paperwork and a lag time while the paperwork was evaluated. As noted earlier, even after three years of restricting imports, no criteria were revealed and all coins had to be examined and judged.
I stress over and over again how these regulations interfered with the coin-collecting hobby to preclude any such government program from being reinstated or started anew. The non-numismatic way that the OGSO was set up and organized, and the fact that it was run by administrators who were not really knowledgeable, was detrimental to both buyers and sellers — collectors, dealers and auctioneers. After working to alleviate these restrictions 50 years ago, I would hate to see such a program reappear.