By Harvey Stack – Co-Founder, Stack’s Bowers Galleries ……
Further Adventures in Growing Up
The year 1958 mirrored the increase in the numismatic hobby, and many new collectors entered the field. Our retail business continued to grow, and the value of the coins themselves grew higher and some new records were set. There was enthusiasm to complete the shorter sets, such as Two Cent pieces, Three Cent Nickels, Jefferson nickels, Roosevelt dimes, Twenty Cent pieces, Washington quarters, Franklin half dollars, Peace dollars, and the type sets of commemoratives in silver and gold (only 11 pieces in the gold type set, not counting the large $50 Panama Pacific coins). Not to mention the Indian Head quarter eagles. Many of these sets could be gotten in both Proof and Mint State, while some were only available in Mint State.
The supply of the “short sets” was helped by the number of rolls put away in the early years, as well as the limited number of coins in each set that was needed for completion. Many major collections were started in this period as the coins were relatively low in cost and the supply was available since earlier collectors had alreaedy done the legwork and the sets came back to the market already complete.
Some collectors bought whole sets from dealers; others built their collections one coin at a time to maintain a certain quality or even toning. Therefore, many dealers broke up the sets they acquired, and so the interest was spread and the market developed.
Stack’s had sold many gold coins from earlier collections to new collectors who had developed their interests after World War II. So even the gold coins had now circulated back into our Public Auction Sales, which consisted of collections we were instrumental in building. Among the sales were coins pedigreed from the Crosby-Mayfield collection, the John Wharton collection, the 1958 N.Y. Numismatic Sale, the Smith Ely Goldsmith extensive collection of Dimes and early Proof sets from 1858 to 1915 in Silver, Nickel and Bronze, and a gerneral collection formed by Frank Chase.
Our Sales were well attended, with hundreds of collectors filling the auction room to a “standing room only” condition and a record number of mail bids received.
The only deterrent to collecting was that many counterfeits were entering the country and being sold as genuine by small dealerships, jewelers and hock shops – creating an unnatural supply on the market place. The U.S. Secret Service traveled from one dealership to another picking up the false coins they found, and in many cases indicting the dealer for selling “false coins”. We as well as some larger dealers were called upon to help the Agents determine “good from bad” so they could do their job efficiently. Stack’s not only helped identify counterfeits but also we were called upon to testify about them at trial.
So the industry was growing but was hampered by false coins, altered dates, and cleaned and resurfaced coins, and professional dealers were called upon to identify what was being offered. We had our job to serve the collector and the hobby, and we who could help did our job.
The year 1959 continued to attract more collectors into the field. Proof Sets and Mint Sets from this year remained close to face value in cost from the Mint. More people started to speculate in these sets, and of course they looked back at the earlier sets as well.
Old-time collectors bought their current sets from the Mint or from a dealer like Stack’s to keep their collections up to date, and they continued to seek the coins they needed to embellish their growing collections. Young collectors searched their change and filled the popular 25 Cents boards, and then advanced to the scarcer rare dates to fill out their albums. Dealers maintained a general stock for beginners as well as buying and selling the scarce and rare dates and branch mints to the more advanced collector.
A goodly number of stores evolved, from small local hobby shops to advanced dealers like our company, and the market seemed to flourish as these collections grew, with a number of old-time collections being sold as they lost interest or passed away. Stack’s received a goodly number of these collections because of the friendship and service we offered from the day we opened in 1933.
Our company was also lucky to get alongside many of the collections the libraries these collectors maintained and used for reference as they developed their collections. Our library grew so much that it had to be housed on two different floors; the United States portion on the first floor and the foreign and ancient library on the second. We made our library available for use by the collector and became friends and helpers as they furthered their numismatic educations. The availabilty of the library and the other services we offered made us a popular destination to buy and sell for these collectors.
My uncle Joe (Joseph B. Stack) used to chide many who came to visit by saying to them (for example): “John, you know that the coin I just sold you is really just on loan to you, for someday I hope to get it back to sell to another collector.” All who heard that remark used to laugh, but it did bind our company to the buyer and so we always had coins for sale to the next collector.
In 1955, in order to help our uncle sell at auction, both Ben and I became licensed Public Auctioneers and were given the chance to sell whenever my uncle tired on the stand.
One of the earlier sales I remember selling myself was at a New England Numismatic sale in Hartford in 1957, where I took several members of our staff, together with the coins to be sold, and sold a whole sale myself.
I must say, I did it without a major error (thanks to my uncle an his training).
In 1959 we started the year off with two major sales: one was the Pelletreau collection, followed a few months later by the Philip Straus collection. The Pelletreu collection, owned by Robert Pelletreau of Long Island, was started by his father in the Depression years of 1933-4. Robert’s father was a lawyer who was established in Patchoug, Long Island and developed a following among many of the farmers that lived and worked on Long Island. After Robert’s father passed away, Robert continued as a lawyer in the area and worked on his father’s collection on weekends.
Robert would travel to New York City about once a month, on the famous Long Island Rail Road, and spend several hours visiting Stack’s, with my father Morton always helping him. It was a very comprehensive collection – some pieces bought from dealers like B. Max Mehl and Wayte Raymond when Robert’s father was actively collecting, and some pieces came from Stack’s as we became a good source for additions.
The Robert Pelletreau Collection, primarily copper, silver and gold coins had many scarce and rare pedigree coins to boast about. Though complete in the minor issues, it was the rarities and high overall quality of the coins that made the collection famous. Among the great rarities were the 1876 CC Twenty Cent piece and the following Half Dollars: 1795 3 leaf, 1796, 1797, 1838-O, 1878-S, as well as an 1884 Trade dollar, which complimented all the regular coinage, mostly in Proof or Mint State.
This was followed a few months later by the T.K. Harvin collection – a basically complete collection of circulation coins from the half cent on up.
Later in 1959 we had the pleasure of offering the famous Phillip Straus Collection. Straus was a close friend of Louis Eliasberg, who bought most of his collection from Stack’s almost two decades earlier. Louis Eliasberg helped Phillip Straus develop his collection and they sold to or traded with each other as collector friends. We provided many of the coins ourselves and when Strauss decided to retire from his banking business he asked Eliasberg what he should do. Eliasberg told him, since Straus had no members of his family interested to collecting, to call up Stack’s and do what Eliasberg had done with his duplicates in 1949. So with this recommendation, together with our own great relationship with Eliasberg, we got the sale. It was a great collection of Mint State and early proof sets from 1858, and because of its quality it attracted hundreds to participate in the public auction.
During the fall of 1959 we sold the Thetford Collection, followed by the Wilson Reuter collection and the Powers collection.
Each of the sales was chock full of high-quality coins, rare dates and desirable specimens in both Mint State and Proof condition. Collectors used to write to us asking what and when the next sales were, for we had a continuous run of coins for sale that were on many, many want lists. They all realized that these collections were built years before, and that the coins were above average.
We also used our subsiderary firm Coin Galleries to sell primarily by mail bid.
Due to the many sales we held in 1959, we became a hub for both collectors and dealers to acquire coins that were not readily available on the market. Yes, we were busy, but with all five Stacks working day and night we kept up a pace that attracted collectors. It was an exciting year.
However, the main deterant to continuous growth was the fact that more gold counterfeits appeared on the market. The Secret Service was, apparently, not “staffed enough” to apprehend the dealers and importers who were buying these false coins overseas and marketing them in the United States. Stories about counterfeits were in various periodicals and newspapers. According to what we learned, several good friends of then President Eisenhower bought their share of counterfeit coins, and complained to him that the Secret Service was not doing its full job. Eisenhower directed the Treasury Department, who was entrusted in policing our coinage (old ones as well as current ones), to investigate and put this abuse to an end.
During 1959 the Treasury activated an office within itself to try to stop the flow. It was called the Office of Gold and Silver Operations, and they put Leland Howard in charge as Director, for he had the possible knowledge of stopping this influx). Howard and others at the end of World War II were in charge of inventorying the gold coins stored by the Germans and Italians that were taken from banks, museums and mints they overran. When we captured the purloined gold, someone had to inventory their plunder. That is how Leland Howard got his reputation and appointment.
It took well over a year for regulations and strong actions to take place so new regulations were not in place to 1960-61.
The fact that Treasury had now gone against the counterfeiters will be explained in my story covering my experiences in 1960.