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Harvey Stack – Growing up in a Numismatic Family: The History of Stack’s – 1982

By Harvey StackCo-Founder, Stack’s Bowers Galleries ……
After the economic upheaval of 1981 and earlier, the numismatic market seemed to withstand the uncertainties created by the sharp drop in the silver market. From the latter part of the 1970s, collectors and speculators–following the sharp purchases of silver and future contracts, initiated by the Hunt Family of Texas–caused a tremendous drop in value by the end of 1981 for what was once considered a great investment. Silver rose during the 1970s from the average price of $3.00 an ounce to $50.00 an ounce as investors, speculators, and coin collectors all tried to get positions in precious metals and become rich.

But as with all things that the public knows little about, most who held onto their positions took a bath as the market took an unprecedented dive going into 1980 and 1981.

Interestingly, everyone thought that silver would replace gold as the new backing for world currencies. But as explained in earlier articles in the series, “HOW WRONG THEY WERE!”

Numismatic collectors and professional dealers who collected coins for their numismatic value also lost some market value, but it was minor compared to the losses incurred by silver hoarders. Those who dedicated their efforts into assembling collections knew what might be rare and what might be common. So even though the prices were lower (somewhat), COLLECTIBLES held well over 90% of the value that they had before the silver disaster.

We at Stack’s maintained our business, adjusted our retail and buying prices accordingly, and tended to our personal relationships with collectors. As mentioned in an earlier report, New York City was a numismatic hub, for there was a substantial group of collectors in New York, New England, and Pennsylvania who visited with us at our shop and bought and sold as they did in earlier years. We were indeed fortunate to have so many collectors visiting us often.

However, we at Stack’s had some tragedies, as my uncle Joseph Stack had a heart attack and passed away. Uncle Joe, almost till the day he died, came to the office on a regular basis to meet and chat with many of our old friends and clients. His son Benjamin also died in the early 1980s after suffering from leukemia for a number of years. Out of those members of the Stack Family who were part of the family business, we now had but three of the Stack males left to serve clients. Norman, Ben’s brother; my son Larry; and myself. Of course, we had a number of fine numismatists that were also part of our company, so we were fortunate that we could divvy up the responsibilities for the daily operation of the company and continue the fine reputation that Stack’s enjoyed.

Starting in the latter part of the 1970s, after she finished college, my daughter Susan came to work with us as a bookkeeper and eventually the office manager, which took a lot of work off of our shoulders. Years later, Rebecca Stack, Larry’s daughter and Harvey’s granddaughter, joined our staff as a bookkeeper as well.

Major Public Auction Sales in 1982

Having developed many major collections in years gone by, Stack’s was very fortunate to have a record-breaking year of public auctions in 1982 by selling a number of collections built decades earlier. They were, in many cases, history-making. The pedigrees from many of these sales are still as cherished in the 21st century as they were when they were sold, all in elaborate catalogs, with color illustrations of many of the rarities.

FEBRUARY: The first sale in 1982 featured the Robison Collection of United States Coins. The collection was formed primarily in the early ’50s by Ellis Robison, noted by his wife and friends as “Roby”. Professionally, Roby was one of the largest pharmaceutical dealers in the Northeast and lived in Troy, New York. He and his wife were always interested in sports at school and education overall. They built important collections and then permitted Stack’s, who had served Roby for decades, to offer them in a series of public auctions in order to fund the various universities they supported.

Roby graduated Cornell University in 1927 and became a major benefactor to the school. He also favored other colleges and the funds from the sale of his and his wife’s coin collections benefited each of the institutions they supported.

Roby’s numismatic goal was to get as complete a collection of United States coins as he could, knowing some were unique or excruciatingly rare, and his collections were among the major “almost complete” collections formed in the 20th Century.

Starting with an extensive set of Colonial coins, he then virtually completed all U.S. issues from half cents to dollars. He wanted to complete his collections as Louis Eliasberg had done, and also wanted to duplicate the Amon Carter and R.L. Miles Collections (both of which Stack’s had also helped build and then later sell), along with others of pedigree note too numerous to list.

The proceeds of this sale, some four million dollars (a substantial value at the time, almost record-breaking) went to Cornell, Rensselaer, Russell Sage College, and Brown University. The auction itself consisted of over 2,000 lots, including many rarities that are too numerous to list.

MARCH: Princeton University consigned a substantial collection of foreign gold and silver coins and others consigned different series of United States gold and silver, making a fine selection of 1,484 lots. The funds from the sale of the Princeton consignments helped fund additions to their library.

MAY: Stack’s conducted the annual Metropolitan New York Numismatic Convention Auction as it had done for many years, which featured a comprehensive offering of ancient and foreign gold coins, paper money, and a comprehensive offering of U.S. gold, silver, and copper coins. The sale of some 1,554 lots was designed to attract as many collectors of different series as possible to help make the convention’s attendance a great success. All grades and quality were included in the sale.

JUNE: Our June sale featured a combination of United States and foreign gold, silver, and copper coins, which consisted of some 1,300 lots. There were many common yet desirable coins to satisfy the beginning collector, and several superb rarities in both Proof and Mint State for the specialized collector.

AUGUST: Once again, Stack’s joined with Rarcoa, Paramount, and Superior to offer the Apostrophe Auction, where each company consigned 500 lots (for a total of 2,000) to bring to the public a superb offering of excessively rare and choice coins of United States gold, silver, and copper in each series. It became a traditional sale, which many bidders made plans to attend. Some of the foremost collectors of the day attended the sale and bid enthusiastically for each and every lot. Of course, a huge amount of bid sheets was also received, setting the tone for this important summer sale.

SEPTEMBER: In September, Stack’s was honored to offer a renowned collection of 19th- and 20th-century foreign gold coins that was formed over four decades by the noted collector Mortimer Hammel. Mortimer Hammel was a dedicated collector and friend of the whole Stack’s family. Mortimer lived within walking distance from Stack’s and so he was a constant visitor and valued client. Not only did he collect, but he taught all of us about the rarity and value of the coins in the entire foreign series. He was considered an expert with a particular interest in Spanish Colonial issues, and he guided us in building one part of the J.K. Lilly Collection of some 500 different Spanish American gold coins, along with other series Mr. Lilly was working on.

Hammel’s collection consisted of almost 1,100 different type coins struck during the 19th and 20th centuries, with condition and rarity as primary requirements. The auction was another landmark sale for Stack’s and because of its broad numismatic scope, our auction room was filled with collectors from the United States and around the world, all hoping to have an opportunity to “capture” some of the great rarities in the Hammel collection.

OCTOBER: In October, we brought to a show in Chicago an extensive collection of various owners, some 1,654 lots of United States and foreign gold, silver, and copper coins, as well as paper money, highlighted by the Estate of August Bohnhorst and the Carl S. Carlson Collection. This sale attracted many collectors from the Midwest and was received and bid on with excitement.

DECEMBER: Part III of the Robison Collection was offered for sale, along with other compatible pieces and consignments. This part of the collection was formed by Doris Robison, Ellis’ wife. It was wonderful to see the interest and knowledge Doris had in assisting her husband in accomplishing what we had sold earlier.

The funds realized from the sale of the Robison coins in this portion of their fabulous collecting efforts went to Cornell and Rensselaer and was used to enhance their noted Herb Gardens that helped create many of the medicines that are used today.

The continuous support that the Robison Family gave to education, along with following the interests that they had in athletics, is how Roby expressed to me his feeling that “a healthy and aggressive sporting activity is a great support to education, and I will do my part to enhance it the best I can!”

As you can see, we at Stack’s were indeed lucky to have attracted many clients who enjoyed their collections and dedicated the results of their endeavors to help others in the hobby.

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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 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980 | 1981

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