By Harvey Stack – Co-Founder, Stack’s Bowers Galleries ……
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Harvey, Norman and Ben
The year 1960 was another exciting year for Ben, Norman and myself, as we all committed ourselves to a full dedication to Numismatics and each did his part to make the company grow.
Each of us had various responsibilities in running parts of our operation. The Stack’s shop on 57th Street, which I managed, was the headquarters where all the major work happened. We bought and sold coins and currency from America as well as world-wide, and we provided a place for collectors who visited New York to stop in and get further involved in Numismatics. And not only was I one of the auctioneers for our public sales but when called upon I traveled to visit clients and attend shows nationwide. I must say, I got great satisfaction from pleasing the collector.
Norman liked the job of researching and cataloging. He would sit in our back office (at a partner’s desk that I shared with him) and sort collections, research the coins we were selling (both at auction and over the counter), and write extensive catalogs alongside my father, Morton. When it was time (and we sent out catalogues at least eight different times a year), both Ben and I would pitch in to “get the catalogs in the mail” to give the collectors ample opportunity to review the lots and submit bids – or come to the shop to see the coins and attend our sales.
Ben loved to travel. He covered many a show all over the country and visited many a collector that he came to know. He bought and sold “on the road”, and of course gathered consignments for our various auctions. Ben, Norman and I operated at “full steam”, while Joseph (Ben and Norman’s Dad) worked in the shop greeting and dealing with the many people who visited us and liked to talk to the “senior Stack”. Morton, my Dad, besides cataloging, did similar chores as my uncle did, tending the counter and welcoming those who visited.
Auctions and Collections
Not all dealers had auction sales, either because they had too small a staff or just did not get to know their clients. Hence, our ability to attract consignments grew.
Not every collection was a “name sale”, as not only did we sell major collections but we also served the smaller consignor. Often we merged the smaller collection with others, so each of our sales had “something for everyone”. Most of our Stack’s auctions contained Gold, Silver and Copper coins of the United States, but several times a year we offered collections of Ancient and Foreign coins and currency.
In 1960 alone we offered the Aires Collection of Ancient and Foreign coins, which boasted both rarities and quality coins. In the United States field we had the following important collections: James Spaulding White, Charles Neumoyer, and Milton H. Holmes – all of which were comprehensive collections of U.S. coins. But the feature sale of that year was the Fairbanks Collection, an outstanding assembly of U.S. Silver Dollars from 1794, with many varieties and choice pieces – including the R. Coulton Davis 1804 dollar.
Our auction business was very successful and collectors usually looked forward to what came next. The above collections were assembled for at least two decades and most much longer than that.
One of the great opportunities I was given was to serve Josiah K. Lilly directly in the formation of his famous collection of U.S., Foreign and Ancient gold coins, which was started in 1951 by Joseph and Morton but turned over to me when both were not well enough to travel to make personal deliveries of coins several times a year. I have written about my personal experiences knowing and serving this great collector previously, so I need not repeat my personal involvement with Mr. Lilly.
So with building collections like Lilly, and others of less value but of great importance nevertheless, the year 1960 was a great one for Stack’s, indeed.
Here Comes Trouble
However, not all things can run as smoothly as one might hope. By 1960 there had begun an epidemic of counterfeits flooding the American market, discouraging many who wanted to collect or continue to do so. Because of the intensity of the problem, President Eisenhower signed an order affecting a restriction on the import of gold coins into the United States. He activated the Office of Gold and Silver Operations and ordered our custom houses to stop all shipments of gold coins and have them examined by members of the Secret Service and Custom Houses nationwide. The head of the Office of Gold and Silver Operation was one Dr. Leland Howard, a longtime member of the Treasury Department, who allegedly knew about gold coins. Since most of the shipments at that time came through the United States Post Office, they were directed first to the Examiners before delivery.
This sudden enforcement on imports further discouraged many collectors and lead to hardship in dealer inventories.
Not only were coins of Ancient and Foreign designs being falsified, but also coins of the United States were being counterfeited Earlier after World War II, banks, museums and vaults that the German and Italian Armies confiscated had many worldwide gold coins hidden away and eventually confiscated by the Allied troops. Some banks were able to sell their stored coins, many of which were American, and shipments to the U.S. became plentiful. However, the counterfeiters took advantage of this market and started to make copies of U.S. coins (as well as foreign pieces), each having a lower carat of gold, and sell them to the U.S. Market. They were able to sell them for less as they gave less gold per coin than an original coin contained. This was the plague that caused the frauds to occur.
So with the problems above being publicized, there began a drop in interest in gold coins.
We as dealers acquired some coins from overseas, but the selection was poor and, due to the fact that it could take sometimes months to “clear customs”, our ability to be able to enhance our clients’ collections was diminished. I will continue the story in the 1961 to 1970 portion of my experiences.