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Harvey Stack – Growing up in a Numismatic Family: The History of Stack’s – 1973

By Harvey StackCo-Founder, Stack’s Bowers Galleries ……
The year 1973 saw a number of initiatives for changes in Numismatics.

With inflation continuing and money becoming more available but losing its purchasing power, all markets–from the Stock Market to commodities, to real estate as well–showed signs that certain collectibles were coming into demand and that people wanted to have some alternate means of investment or a “store of Value”!

As such, professionals and collectors worked to make the hobby of Numismatics more pleasurable, curtailing the abuses of counterfeiters and promoters who tempted many to make bad investments.

Several important events occurred this year. Stack’s (with me as a representative) worked with the United States Congress on the Hobby Protection Act; the American Numismatic Association (ANA) reformed the grading system to include numerical grading; my son, Lawrence R. Stack (Larry), joined the firm after his graduation from Ohio University; and we offered for public auction an important group of old-time collections. In other words, we had a very active and important year.

1973 was a year when the importance and reliability of the professional numismatist were discussed and acted upon. It was a year of change to make the hobby more acceptable to the old as well as new collectors. The neophytes needed guidance, the older, more seasoned collector (who studied numismatics and learned much about coin collecting) needed guidance as to how to grow with the expansion of the hobby.

The Hobby Protection Hearing and Act

With the world economy moving towards greater inflation, forgeries of all collectibles, from coins to stamps to antiques to paintings, were being shipped worldwide. And in our hobby COUNTERFEITS and/or COPIES were made to be marketed to the public as genuine examples.

Congress got complaints about the lack of regulation and imitations were made here as well as many places worldwide. They convened a hearing to review what the various industries would suggest. I was asked to be the representative for numismatic collectibles since my earlier encounter with the Treasury regarding the temporary restriction of gold coins from abroad. I did present my case, which included advising Congress that counterfeiting was flooding the country and that we needed a way to regulate to inflow. The Custom House, I learned, was ill-equipped to identify and confiscate false coins, and the law, which was finally enacted, said that all coins entering our markets that are false and counterfeit had to be stamped, in letters that were clearly legible, the word COPY!

The same problems, in different ways, affected “all collectibles”. From reproductions of antiquities to modern art, from lithographs to porcelain, from jewelry to postage stamps, counterfeits were finding their way into shops, galleries, and even in small-town antique shops. And when the items were challenged, the buyer had immense trouble getting his money back. It was past time that the Federal authorities were armed for the fight with legislation.

The Hobby Protection Act was passed in 1973, turning much of the authority over to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to propose a set of regulations and enforcing rules. However, the FTC was not able to administer the law, for they had few qualified personnel to help enforce it.

So the law exists, but as late as 2014 few if any regulations have been administered and enforced. To this day, other than the laws about counterfeiting (which have been on the books virtually since the nation began), the problem has not been regulated as the law provides.

What seemed to work, which was very hindering and time-consuming, was the GOLD IMPORT REGULATIONS OF 1961 when an embargo was imposed on gold coin imports and special licensing was required. Unfortunately, the government’s rulings were arbitrary and capricious and rejected by the importers. Regulators were unable, because of a minuscule staff, to administer the regulations and the import requirements were terminated in 1967.

But all who participated in the hearings knew that the problem existed but had experienced much difficulty trying to apprehend the culprits. Few coins were stamped, while thousands came to market, and the Secret Service has had an inefficient staff to administer the regulations. So the market has many false copies and counterfeit coins to deal with, and we in the hobby have tried, sometimes successfully, to stop the import and distribution of false coins. We keep trying!

The ANA and Grading Reform

The abuses in grading had become more and more apparent. So in the spring of 1973, the AMERICAN NUMISMATIC ASSOCIATION invited a group of over 50 professionals, including myself, to Colorado Springs to address the various systems used by collectors and dealers to grade coins, and to unify them so that all coins would follow the same methodology.

Professional dealers had many a discussion about previously graded coins, as to what grade they are, are they really Mint State, are they Proofs or Proof-like, etc., and there was many a debate about what grade a coin was or if it was actually better or worse than identified. The standards are different for each denomination and mint. Technology did differ, improvement in planchet making and die striking did vary from one coin to another, and the need for getting a more unified system was the intent of the ANA conference.

Official ANA Grading Standards for United States CoinsMost everyone who attended had a discussion point that had to be considered, but the members of the conference agreed that it might be worthwhile to adopt the SHELDON SYSTEM and use NUMERICAL GRADING together with the ADJECTIVAL LETTER DESIGNATION. By using numbers along with letters, the system might be clearer.

Dick Yeoman, the original editor of the Redbook, and Ken Bressett, who was his close Assistant, redid the grades as listed in the forthcoming issue of the Guide Book, and showed us a copy. It had one flaw, as far as I could see.

For, say, an About Uncirculated coin they said AU 50, so the old timer who was used to adjectival letters could understand it and the newer collectors could work with the numerical side. It was an attempt to serve both groups. However, when it came to a Brilliant Uncirculated coin, or BU, or BR UNC, the Guide Book we examined had MS 60. An unfamiliar phrase to most existing collectors at the time.

I became aware of this difference because of its use in the auction business, but we felt the introduction of MS instead of B U. or Br. Unc. would be questioned by those who were used to the adjectival system, which for many generations was a way to list an UNCIRCULATED COIN. So I suggested to Ken: why not for the first few years list BOTH, a value for the adjectival lettering, and also the numerical grade. It would surely get the reader more familiar with the new grading system more quickly than just leaving an MS abbreviation with the new numerical grade.

After two weeks of calling Ken on the phone at one pm (his local time, and after he finished his customary lunch hour), I convinced him that it was important and would be very helpful to his readers to simplify the grading in the Guide Book.

It took quite a few years for the numerical part of the grade to be used more often than no numbers at all, as collectors became more accustomed to seeing both in print and more commonly used, not limited to just copper Large Cents (as it was originally designed for), but to get recognition across the board for all U.S. coins. Of course, since that acceptance and usage, it has become over the last few decades more acceptable and used to a much larger extent.

Within a short time after this conference, the ANA established as a service to the hobby known as ANACS. For a fee, the ANA coin service would examine the specimens submitted, photograph each one, couple that photo with each certificate of authenticity and return it to the sender. However, as the coin and photo were not attached, the photo could be used for selling false, altered, polished and poorer examples, and then the seller would resubmit the coin to the service, and do it over and over again.

The scam was soon found out, and the ANACS certification system was compromised and lost its importance.

By 1982 and ’83, two new services came into existence, PCGS, and NGC, and they provided a grading service that featured a sealed container so switching coins and certificates was almost impossible. Now there have been compromises even in this system, which is still being worked on to this day. But the attempt to overcome fraud and mismarked items has been tamed considerably within the past 30 years.

Lawrence Stack Joins the Team

Also in the spring of 1973, Lawrence R. Stack (Larry), my son, graduated from Ohio University, in Akron, Ohio, where he majored in History and Finance. Larry is also the nephew of Joseph and the cousin of both Ben and Norman; this brought five Stack’s back to operating the business (my father Morton, Larry’s grandfather, had died in 1967).

Larry during his earlier days, from public school and through his university years–when time permitted–worked first as an apprentice and then as a full-time numismatist at Stack’s. He was taught how to buy and sell, grade coins and deal with clients. He had the good fortune of meeting and becoming friends with many of the senior collectors that used to visit weekly, as well as being taught by a specialized staff (which Stack’s always had). He took to the teaching and became well respected as a professional numismatist within a year or two of becoming “full time”. Larry worked with the family in servicing and building collections, almost managing the shop and its many visitors, while also collecting certain series of coins.

Larry built an expanded type set of U.S. coins (modeled after the prize-winning one that Norman developed and wrote a definitive book about), a specialized collection of Renaissance gold and silver, an ancient gold and silver Greek and Roman series, and a comprehensive collection of English gold and silver. Each when near completion he sold at auction, using the funds to expand his other collections. To him, they were learning exercises that he enjoyed doing, for not only did help develop a specialized love for each collection, but became very friendly with collectors having similar interests. He advocated “READ THE BOOK BEFORE YOU START COLLECTING”, which is what he did, and suggested that others do the same.

Larry now is one of the founders of Stack’s Bowers, along with me and Q. Dave Bowers whom we merged with.

Noteworthy Auctions

With all the changes we were involved within 1973, it’s easy to forget we were a business. But Stack’s did hold a series of great auctions that year, with several considered, even today, as important pedigree sales. Some of the coins from these 1973 sales have been resold now and then and the pedigrees that they possess elevate many new collections. Let me list a few highlight sales with some of their features to give you a better idea as to how great they were.

The Nate Smith Collection - Stack's

In early March we offered the Nate Smith Collection of some 1,879 lots, which featured a comprehensive date and mint collection for the general collector.

In the latter part of the month, we offered a comprehensive collection of Colonial and standard coinage, going back to the early days of our country, the property of the Massachusetts Historical Society, which was deaccessing parts of the legendary Adams Family Collection (think of the founding father, not the creepy 1950s television characters). History was in the catalog, which offered some 1,204 lots!

In May of 1973, we offered the renowned C.H. Patten Collection, which featured hundreds of lots of U.S. half dollars from 1794, with the majority of various die breaks in the Bust type before 1836, and other series of popular interest. This sale had some 1,065 lots, in various grades and rarity.

Reed Hawn Collection - August 28, 29, 1973In August after the ANA Annual Convention, we had the privilege of offering one of the most famous name collections of that era: the renowned collection of Reed Hawn. A few decades earlier, Reed had come to visit Stack’s his father to start building a super-high-quality collection. The years during which he was assembling his collection happened to coincide with the sale of many famous old-time collections. Though he had a basic minor coins collection in both Proof and Mint State, the highlight of his collection was the fantastic array of Proof early issues, from 1807, and highlights from 1794 to 1947 either in Proof or in outstanding Mint State. To list them all would be lengthy, but to mention some of the outstanding rarities let me start with 1794 through 1807, which were basically Mint State, and included 1795, three different varieties; 1796 15 and 16 Star; 1797; 1801; and, from 1807, a large group of varieties to 1836, all of which were Mint State and choice, with some Proofs or first strikes. From 1836 to 1947, virtually complete, highlighted by 1838-O in Proof; 1847/6; a run from 1850 to 1857 in Proof, along with an 1853 “O” in Presentation Proof grade; and all of the later dates in Mint State and Proof, including the 1878-S in gem condition. Really an UNRIVALED COLLECTION. The entire offering embraced some 808 lots and was one of the most popular and sought-after collections offered that year.


In late November, another major collection of United States gold, silver, and copper coins, the property of George Scanlon, was awarded to Stack’s to sell. George was a fierce competitor in many of our sales and would sit in the back of the auction room and bid strongly on many of the choice and rare coins we offered. He was a client of ours for over half a century, and originally started his collection with his grandchildren involved. But when the children started to grow up and did not fully understand collecting and the values each coin had, George decided to sell. His massive collection had some 2,797 lots of individual coins and sets, especially pre-1915 silver and copper Proof Sets, acquired from some of our famous earlier sales. George also had full runs of all series mostly in Mint State and Proof.

With two sales like the Hawn and Scanlon Collections sold at auction, together with three other general collections (including a major offering of Greek and Roman coinage), the firm had a wonderful year and the honor of serving many collectors avidly building major collections themselves.

* * *

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 | 1967 | 1968-69 | 1970-71 | 1972

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