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

By Harvey StackFounder, Stack’s Bowers ……
 

Part 1 | Part 2

As I explained in an earlier part of this story, Stack’s involvement with the Josiah K. Lilly Collection all started with his initial visit to our storefront in New York. As related he and his wife traveled to Florida each winter by train, stopping off in New York on their way South in the fall and again on their way back in the spring.

He instructed us on these visits to keep searching for doubloons, as well as other coins from the English, French, Portuguese and Italian series we had already started. We concentrated on the Spanish Colonial series, contacting dealers and collectors all over to find and set aside more of these coins. We also continued to seek other European coinage as Mr. Lilly requested.

On his visit in the spring of 1953 we were able to show him what we had assembled. With the addition of this group his collection of doubloons would be close to 200 different pieces. He liked what we had done, and asked that we bring them to Indianapolis within a few weeks, which of course we did.

He then expressed interest in another collecting area: the gold coins of the United States. We explained that we had built collections for many others.

He learned that in 1943 Stack’s had bought all the half eagles ($5 gold coins issued 1795-1929) and all the eagles ($10 gold issued 1795-1933) from the Col. E.H.R. Green Collection. Included were hundreds of duplicates, especially in the early issues, before the coin sizes were reduced.

The first sets of $5 and $10 gold we sold to King Farouk of Egypt, through his personal representative. These were sent by diplomatic pouch to Cairo. The second set, almost as complete as the first, we sold to an American client, Clifford T . Weihman. The balance of the dates and duplicates were put into our inventory. Even after we sold the two sets, it was still the largest stock of early coinage in any dealer’s inventory. We showed Mr. Lilly examples and he said he would think about it.

As he had started collecting with the largest gold Spanish-American coins, he felt he should start with the largest coin of the United States: the $20 gold double eagle.

Mr. Lilly asked, “How many different are there?” We told him there were 199. He replied that it would take some time to assemble that many pieces. We told him about a collector in Texas who might consider selling his set of $20 gold coins. He expressed his interest and suggested we inquire about it and if possible let him know on his return to New York in the fall. After he left for Indianapolis we started our pursuit of double eagles.

In early May I again traveled with my father Morton to Indianapolis, following the established system and delivered what we had acquired over the previous winter.

At Eagle’s Nest, Mr. Lilly showed us again his growing collection of lead soldiers. Each group had five to seven soldiers lined up, showing the foot soldier, the flag bearer, the drummer, the officer in charge, and sometimes the general. Each was accurately fashioned into the proper uniform of that division, each with the appropriate hat, the proper sashes and epaulets in place, the correct color for a dress parade.

He had over 4,500 soldiers, ranging from the Green Mountain Boys to Colonial soldiers and post-Revolution federal troops through the decades before the Civil War. There were examples wearing the various uniforms of the Blue and the Grey (which were often different as each regiment had its own designs and hats yet were basically in the colors of the North or South), continuing on up to the First World War.

These lead soldiers were amazing when you saw them all displayed before you. It was a view of history in miniature.

Mr. Lilly had employed the finest maker of lead soldiers, who resided in Philadelphia, to make and complete his collection. Dedicated collector that he was, Mr. Lilly personally researched the appropriate uniforms for each regiment he portrayed. As with all his hobbies, he researched them carefully and engaged only qualified experts to guide him.

In the last few months of 1953 and into the first half of 1954 there was much excitement and planning in the numismatic hobby. This was because the collection of King Farouk of Egypt was being cataloged to be sold in Cairo in the spring of 1954. At Stack’s we were very busy preparing the Anderson-Dupont and Davis Graves catalogs for our pending auctions. All this kept the numismatic press busy, and public interest in the sales in Cairo and ours in New York was very high as a result of much new material on the market.

In early spring 1954, Josiah K Lilly made one of his semi-annual stops in New York and as was customary, he stopped in to visit at Stack’s. He inquired what was happening with the coins in Cairo, and what new things had we uncovered to add to his collection. He was happy to examine the Schermerhorn Collection of Double Eagles, ($20 gold). He liked the overall quality and noticed that a few were still missing. We informed him that we were seeking the others, which were primarily in the Saint-Gaudens series.

We discussed how the banks in Europe had many U.S. $20 gold still buried in their vaults, and spoke of our concern that many previous rare dates might be part of these hoards. We advised Mr. Lilly, as we did other collectors, that they should not jump to buy these “rarer dates,” as it was possible that a quantity could suddenly appear on the market. Mr. Lilly agreed. We billed him for the Schermerhorn Collection, and he said he would be patient.

Next we reviewed the foreign gold coins we had assembled. But we weren’t done!

Mr. Lilly asked, “Since I am now adding the U.S. double eagles to my gold coin collection, what about the other denominations?” We spent an hour explaining the other denominations and he expressed interest in expanding his United States gold collection.

“I would prefer if you could find some of the other U.S. coin series, as partial sets or even complete denominations, as you did years ago with Louis Eliasberg, King Farouk, and others we talked about. I could get a good head start, as I know that there are some sets of these in existence. Is it possible?”, Mr. Lilly asked.

Earlier we had spoken about our good fortune in getting for outright purchase the coins in the Davis Graves and Anderson-Dupont collections. We had told Mr. Lilly how those two acquisitions had precluded our attendance at the Cairo sale.

We then showed him the sets of gold coins from the Anderson-Dupont collection that we were in the process of cataloging for a fall auction. From that collection, we had four (4) different complete sets of lower-denomination U.S. gold coins. Each set was housed in beautiful leather boxes, lined with deep purple velvet–as they were when we bought the collection. Each coin from each issue and mint were systematically stored side by side; just opening the boxes was a dazzling experience.

The cases contained:

  • A complete set of gold dollars, 1849 to 1889, all dates and mints, primarily in brilliant Uncirculated or Proof
  • A complete set of quarter eagles, 1796 to 1929, all dates and mints primarily in brilliant Uncirculated or Proof
  • A complete set of $3 gold pieces, all dates and mints (no 1970-S), primarily in brilliant Uncirculated or Proof
  • A complete set of $4 gold Stellas, including the 1879 and 1880 Flowing Hair and Coiled Hair, all four in superb Proof

Looking at the sets, examining them carefully was like seeing the “crown jewels of numismatics.” Mr. Lilly was pleased with what he saw, it would meet his needs not to have to try to assemble these beautiful, rare and popular series at one time. Of course he inquired, “How much for the four sets?”

We responded “$50,000.” He looked up at us with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I will take them.” For those who want to consider the deal he got, prices were far lower in the 1950s, and many of the coins he acquired would now be five-, six-, or seven-figure coins on the 2016 coin market. My, how coins have grown in value.

After this transaction was completed, Mr. Lilly asked: “Now that I own the $1, $2.50, $3, $4 and almost a full set of $20, how do I gather the $5 and $10 gold sets?” We told him the story of our purchase of the Col. E.H.R. Green Collection from the Chase Bank in 1943-1944 and the $5 and $10 gold coins it contained. From this vast hoard we were able to make virtually complete sets of these denominations that we sold to King Farouk at the time.

We also were able to assemble virtually complete sets of $5 and $10 gold coins for Clifford T. Weihman, (who was considered the “olive oil king”) and who still had his coins.

Mr. Lilly, with a smile on his face said “Well maybe he has some left for me!”

We all laughed and told him that we would investigate. He thanked us for our help in achieving his goals from when he first walked into our shop to talk about “Pirate Gold”. He also expressed his gratitude for our assistance and expertise as he expanded his collection into other series. To get such a compliment from such a dedicated collector warms my heart to this day.

We arranged for a delivery and set a date in May to hand-carry his coins to him and to visit Eagle’s Nest again.
 


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