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Growing up in a Numismatic Family: The Early Days of Stack’s – 1967

Growing up in a numismatic family - Harvey Stack - 1967

By Harvey StackCo-Founder, Stack’s Bowers Galleries ……
When my father died in December 1966, he left his share of the company to me. I had already received 25% from my father in 1955, and that same year my uncle Joseph gave my cousins Ben and Norman 12.5% each while he retained 25% himself. So I, having the single largest holding, became more responsible for the company’s plans going forward. But the day-to-day business was still on my shoulders, and I tried to maintain my thoughts as to how to continue with the many projects before us.

The Continuing Lawsuit

In early January the Hearing Judge came back with an opinion in our ongoing lawsuit against the Treasury Department and its rules for granting and denying licenses for the importation of gold coins to the United States. The judge ruled that we were correct in asking for a repeal of the licensing regime.

We were happy. Our lawyers were happy. The Treasury Department’s Office of Gold and Silver Operations (OGSO), however, was not. A day or so after the ruling came down, the Office delivered a document to our attorney stating:


We had went through the entire hearing, won the case, and yet the OSGO still denied a license.

Harvey Stack
Harvey Stack

Our attorney said that the government doesn’t like to lose, and since they could they were going to force us to appeal to a higher court. We said we would like to continue, and our lawyer started to file an appeal on the grounds of the OSGO being “arbitrary and capricious” in its decision-making process.

About a week later, the OGSO replied to our lawyers, suggesting that we not pursue the case as they were working on some changes. Upon the advice of counsel we held back with further action.

Unfortunately, our client in the Netherlands got very sick and could not wait any longer. So he sold the collection overseas where no rulings would delay it. We were heartbroken, but we were grateful that he was willing to wait so long as it was. We understood that his health procluded his desire to have Stack’s sell his coins in America.

During the late spring of 1967, the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) held a meeting in New York City. We learned that a member of the OGSO wanted to deliver a talk to the membership. At the meeting, an under-director of the OGSO delivered a talk as to WHY regulations were put into force, the results that have since occurred, and then he announced:

“The intent of the import regulations has been satisfied, and therefore licenses will NO LONGER BE REQUIRED for genuine gold coins dated before 1933 to be imported into the United States.”

We had won the battle but lost the war!

We had won our case, and now import licenses were no longer the bane of a coin dealer’s existence. But because it had taken so long to litigate the matter, we lost the collection of gold coins that had been the reason for the lawsuit in the first place. We did get a good rousing cheer from the PNG membership, though.

Nevertheless, the final ruling made overseas buying and selling easier, and we could once again serve our collector clients in building their collections.

Major Collections Sold at Auction

Stack’s continued auction sales in 1967 while still conducting active over-the-counter and mail-order business. Collectors visited our shop to see what we had added to inventory, to meet with other collectors on Saturdays and to use our library for their research. Our monthly auction sales, which usually took place on the weekends, brought in many buyers and observers. And, as usual, one or two members of the Stack family were on the road, attending shows and visiting collectors.

We opened the year with the Robert Arnel auction of his type set, assembled during the previous decade by attending our sales and visiting us on a regular basis. He also became obsessed, along with a close friend of his, with seeing how many 11-piece commemorative gold coin sets they could assemble. It was a highly popular series at the time, along with its silver commemorative counterpart. They put together 15 sets the first year, but only because Bob and his friend insisted on such high-quality pieces.

In addition, Robert Arnel’s type set of U.S. silver coins was so nice and choice that new record prices were established.

Next, we sold the Bernard Copeland Collection of U.S. gold, silver and copper coins, which contained many choice early coins. Following that we offered the Nicholson Family collection, which contained many early type coins of the U.S. originally assembled by the father and continued by the son.

Charles Jay Collection of United States Coins
Charles Jay Collection of United States Coins

The Celebrated Charles Jay Collection

Charles Jay was a celebrated collector (active for about 15 years) seen very often at Stack’s Auctions. He was introduced to us by a close friend and super photographer, Maurice Bauman, who dedicated much of his collecting life amassing one of the finest collections of U.S. half dollars 1794-1947, with most varieties and finest known specimens.

Charles Jay became enamored with type coin collecting, as he wanted to have a choice representative of each design of each denomination, for an overall view of United States coinage from the colonial period through the 20th century. He knew of Eliasberg’s set, and he also knew that he could not afford to build a collection of that size.

So he went for type coins. But not only did he seek quality, pedigreed coins when possible, he also sought out very rare examples whenever he could – which was doable, for the period of 1950 to 1967 saw many rare and unusual specimens sold by the collectors of previous years.To give you some idea of just how vast his collection was, let me outline a small sampling of the rarities he had amassed. He acquired either MINT STATE COINS or PROOF and SPECIMEN examples.

Major Mint State Examples Included:

  • COLONIALS: Birch Cent, Continental Dollar, Oak Tree Shilling
  • HALF CENTS: 1793, 1794, 1796 Pole to Cap
  • LARGE CENTS: Birch Cent, 1793, 1794, 1796
  • HALF DIMES: 1794, 1796, 1802
  • DIMES: 1796
  • QUARTERS: 1796, 1901-S, 1918/7-S
  • HALF DOLLARS: 1794, 1796

In Proof or Specimens:

  • CENTS: 1856 Flying Eagle, 1864 “L”
  • FIVE CENTS: 1867 ‘Rays’
  • QUARTERS: 1827
  • SILVER DOLLARS: 1836-1839, 1866 No Motto, 1895

Gold Coins in Proof:

  • GOLD DOLLARS: Almost a full set, C and D Mint (he liked the small gold coins because of overall quality available)
  • THREE DOLLAR: 1857, 1858, 1873, 1875, 1876, 1877
  • TEN DOLLAR: 1872, 1907 Wire Edge
  • TWENTY DOLLAR: 1862, 1907 Flat Edge

The other coins that made up the set were very choice and sought after by numerous collectors. The Stack Family had helped Charles Jay acquire most of his coins, and we were proud to have the pleasure of being able to offer it for sale.

In fact, Stack’s was so excited to offer this fabulous collection that we had a special cover designed, showing a walnut chest with flat display trays displaying a goodly number of the Charles Jay Collection, shot and printed in Color–one of the first color covers ever done!

We concluded our public auction year with the Hall Park McCullough Collection, which was formed over 50 years before we had the opportunity to sell it.

A Major New Project

After Mr. Lilly’s passing, the Indiana State Bank in Indianapolis was named the executor of his Estate.

The bank first sent to Indiana University at Bloomington the vast and rare library Lilly had collected of first editions of English and American Literature, going back as far as Shakespeare.

The Lilly home, Olmstead, which is now located near the Indiana State Museum, was given to the Museum as an additional gallery, with all the art and paintings included. It is a place to see and admire as how he was able to assemble such a collection.

The Lilly collection of Revolutionary guns and armament–together with his collection of specially commissioned 5,000 miniature lead soldiers–was given to his son, who opened a museum on Cape Cod (which also includes many great items from his nautical collection as well).

Among the projects that were turned over to Stack’s was the task of inventorying his vast gold coin collection.

When we spoke to the Indiana Bank about the preparation of the inventory of the J.K. Lilly Gold Coin Collection, we gave a plan for the sale of the entire collection at public auction. We were advised that after the inventory was made that they would have, for estate purposes, a full appraisal of the coin collection. However, since we had been so close to Mr. Lilly during his formative collecting years, the Trust Officer advised us that we might not want to appraised the collection. He advised us that Indiana estate law insisted that the appraiser could not be either the purchaser, agent for, or auctioneer for the sale of the collection.

Realizing we had a friend in the Trust Officer, we elected to do the full confirmation of the inventory, prepare the necessary listings that would be required, and help them find an appraiser who would prepare estate documents for the future.

Abe Kosoff and Hans Schulman
Abe Kosoff and Hans Schulman

At the time the ones who we thought would do the correct work were Hans Schulman of New York and Abe Kosoff from California. Hans was good with Foreign and Ancient coins; Abe was a U.S. Specialist. Of course this was a bit underhanded of me, since both Hans and Abe were also public auctioneers. If they did the appraisal, then they would not be eligible to offer the collection for sale! They both took on the appraisal job, and awaited our inventories to prepare their work.

Norman and I went to Indianapolis early that summer and, with the help of our full index card files of each and every coin we had acquired for J.K. Lilly’s Collection, we were able to assure the Estate that each and every coin that we had supplied was as I had last seen it at Eagle’s Nest, the Lilly HOBBY house in which he kept his collections.

We made several trips back and forth to verify the inventory and the lists that were prepared of its contents.

It wasn’t until early fall that our part of the job for the Lilly Estate was complete, and then I understand both Hans and Abe went to Indianapolis to start examining each piece in the collection. Some of the coins that we helped add to the Lilly Collection during the 16 years it took to build it were so rare that both Abe and Hans spent days if not weeks trying to find background information for valuation.

We were told that the appraisal could not be complete before the early part of 1968, but we were happy that they were being so thourough.

Meanwhile, as 1967 came to an end, Norman, Ben and myself tried to find someone who might be willing to acquire this collection intact and in 1967, millions were harder to find than tens of millions today. So I decided to work with the Smithsonian, to try to get the United States to acquire the collection to make the National Collections grow in status. I spent the latter part of the year discussing this with Dr. and Mrs. Stefanelli, the curators at the Smithsonian, who, after they learned more about the “mystery collection”, wanted to see what they could do to get Congress to acquire it for the Institution.

This year of the “Growing Up” story was one of the most difficult and time absorbing that I had to endure, for between fighting the government on licensing, running several major sales, dedicating myself to be of service to our many clients, and working on the Lilly Estate, the year really gave me the great push to continue “Growing Up”.

More great things occurred in 1968 and they will be told in the next part.

Links to Earlier Parts:

1928-35 | 1935-45 | 1945-51 | 1951-52 | 1954 | 1955-56 | 1957 | 1958-59 | 1960 | 1961-62 | 1963 | 1964 | 1965 | 1966

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