Late in 1963 I won my first lots in a public auction: 24 Bronze Pattern 10 Centimes from the French Second Republic’s 1848 design competition, appearing in an auction by James Kelly World Numismatiques in Dayton, Ohio. Soon after I bid successfully on my first group lots, multi-piece groups of jetons and medals of the Paris, France, Mint appearing in a sale by Coin Galleries in New York City (CG).
CG was the ancient and world coin division of Stack’s at 123 West 57th Street, Manhattan, where I would spend 22 years later in my career. Stack’s was then the most solidly established auction house in the U.S., founded in the early 1930’s by Morton Stack and his brother Joseph B. Stack. (Editors Note: Correction noted from Harvey Stacks comments below) By 1963, the next generation was taking over: Norman, Benjamin and Harvey Stack.
CG had had great catalogers including the late Henry Grunthal, later a curator of the New York-based American Numismatic Society (ANS); Vladimir and Elvira Clain-Stefanelli, later curators of the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian. Then came Lieutenant-Commander James C. Risk U.S.N. Ret., leading American expert in world orders and decorations.
I continued collecting in spite of the miserably museum salary, receiving catalogs from Henry Christensen of Hoboken, New Jersey, Jess Peters of Decatur, IL and others. In 1971 I promoted my very non-profit museum into a glittering future as the Metropolitan Dade County Commission voted $1 million to provide our first new building and justifying the eight years of poverty required to arrive at this moment.
The ancient papal coronation ceremony included one of the senior Cardinals setting fire to bunches of dry straw virtually in the new pope’s ear with the warning, “Sanctissime Pater, sic transit glory mundi! (Most Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world.”) So it was with the museum.
We opened to the public in October 1972 and by February 1974 I was unemployed. The institution was now successful and one of our officers had a friend who really deserved my job!
Numismatics to the rescue. I was a charter subscriber to Coin World, with a certificate signed by founding Editor D. Wayne Johnson to prove it. Amos Press also published two monthly magazines in 1974, Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine (purchased from Lee Hewitt in 1968) and World Coins (WC),(launched by Amos in 1964), a hugely respected publication edited by Russell Rulau. WC began a series in January 1974 entitled “The People who bring you World Coins.”
“People,” there it was! A letter was quickly dispatched to publisher J. Oliver Amos and was as quickly answered. A few days later I flew to Dayton, Ohio, driving on to Sidney for a three-day interview and “let’s see what you can do” testing. A short time later I was driving northward in a U-Haul with my wardrobe, Labrador retrieved and 25 boxes of books.
During the next seven years as a full time writer, I learned a vast amount about every aspect of numismatics. Newspaper editorship is not a democracy: staff writers apply their skills to everything assigned or found in the “in basket” whether they like to subject or not. New coin issues from all over the world, coin firm news, crime coverage, convention and club news, museum activities, the doings of U.S. Mint personnel, ANA politics, even obituaries land on one’s desk every working desk to be written NOW!
A perennial subject was the world of auctions from our side of the window. Every American auction house sent catalogs, along with bewildering variety of overseas firms. Nearly all realized the value of a Coin World review before a sale and a follow-up describing the highlights. My language skills sent me Spanish, French, German and Italian sales as well.
Virtually every auction house was delighted to have Coin World’s attention: Stack’s, Superior, Paramount, Bowers & Ruddy, RARCOA and a host of smaller entities. A conspicuous exception was Bruce McNall’s Numismatic Fine Arts of Encino and Beverly Hills, whose attorney sent a threatening letter because we had illustrated a very favorable review with art shot from their auction catalog! That would be the last such review CW would run.
My tenure at Coin World was a time of virtually around-the-clock hard work, unlimited learning, successful travel across the U.S. and Europe, Israel and Mexico. After seven years it seemed time to move to the other side of the auction window. (To be continued)
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, David Alexander named Shirley Stack as one of the founder’s of Stack’s. We have learned that this was in error. Stack’s was founded by Morton Stack and his brother, Joseph B. Stack.
David T. Alexander was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and became a collector at age nine, specializing in world coins and medals. He is a Life Member of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and has received its Glenn B. Smedley Award, Silver Medal of Merit and was ANA Numismatist of the Year in 2013. He is the founder of Medal Collectors of America (MCA) and is a Fellow of the American Numismatic Society (ANS).
He has served as auction cataloger for Johnson & Jensen, Kagin’s Numismatic Auctions, Numismatic Auctions of Florida. He was a lead cataloger for Stack’s and Coin Galleries from 1990 to 2013, working on many of the firm’s greatest sales including the John J. Ford Jr. collection and their sale with Sotheby’s of the famous 1933 gold double eagle. He was associated with Harlan J. Berk Ltd. of Chicago in 2014.
He is author of innumerable newspaper and magazine articles and books including the Coin World Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins in 1990 and the award-winning American Art Medals, 1909-1995, Circle of Friends of the Medallion and Society of Medalists, published by ANS in 2013. He lives in suburban Putnam County, N.Y. with his wife of 37 years, Pat and son Christopher.