By Harvey Stack – Founder, Stack’s Bowers ……
CoinWeek continues to post Harvey Stack’s wonderful series of blogs on not only the building of one of the all-time greatest coin collections but also how the relationship between Josiah K. Lilly and the Stack family grew over time. This week’s entry compiles parts 19 and 20, available on the Stacksbowers.com blog. If you’re new to the series, you can start here, at Part 1. Or if you just need to catch up, here’s a link to the most recent issue, Part 11
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In my last article (see above) I discussed how the problem of counterfeit gold coins and the government’s attempts to deal with this problem affected the coin market and Stack’s business. As noted earlier, the government set up the Office of Gold & Silver Operations (OGSO).
The OGSO demanded that anyone importing gold coins from overseas have a license approved by that office. Before this, prior to 1961, gold coins did not need to be licensed for importation. The paperwork required by this regulation was so complicated that it became almost impossible to buy from other countries. No rules for entry were given to the public and no time was stated for imports to get licensed. You never knew if a license would be approved and if it wasn’t taken care of ahead of time, you risked the imported items being stopped upon entering the United States and either held or returned to the sender.
So American collectors stopped buying from overseas and the market got smaller. The gold coins already in America went up in price because there was a lack of supply. It became difficult for dealers like Stack’s to serve clients who required coins that could only be found outside of the United States. Without our sources among overseas dealers and collectors, as well as some important auctions held there, the acquisition of coins for the J.K. Lilly Collection slowed somewhat.
Therefore, it was fortunate that Stack’s had built a good number of specialized collections within the United States. As some of these became available we were able to continue to build the Lilly Collection. We also traveled extensively to conventions and other venues to find what we could domestically. In addition, the firm’s close contacts with dealers here in America, and auctions conducted by us and other firms, meant that we could find enough supply to keep the J.K. Lilly growing.
From 1960 to 1966 Stack’s was able to expand the Pioneer and Territorial gold collection, the Central and South American series (especially some doubloons and smaller denominations of Spanish American coinage), as well as add ducat and multiple ducat coins from the Renaissance period, coins of the Near and Far East, and some of the counterstamped coins used in early Caribbean trading.
Despite the difficulties that resulted from the regulations of the early 1960s, Stack’s commitment to serving their clients was strong and the firm was able to build Mr. Lilly’s collection, even in this difficult environment.
So the rituals of working with Mr. Lilly and building his world class collection continued.
He would visit Stack’s twice a year: once in the fall and once in the spring on his annual trip to and from to Florida. I would then visit him at his home at least twice a year to make deliveries of new items for his collection. The relationship was always warm and friendly.
After Stack’s was able to acquire the 1822 half eagle for the J.K. Lilly Collection, there was only one coin needed for it to be complete in U.S. gold coins. If Louis E. Eliasberg or his estate would offer the unique 1870-S three-dollar gold piece for sale, we had the client to acquire it.
To show how the numismatic hobby had changed and grown from 1954 to 1960, one need only to compare the price Amon Carter, Jr. wanted for his 1822 half eagle (Mr. Lilly paid $50,000 USD for it), with what Mr. Lilly had paid earlier for large sets of gold coins. Some years earlier he had been able to purchase complete high-quality sets of gold dollars, $2.50 gold, $3 gold, (without an 1870-S) and the $4 gold Stellas for the same price of $50,000. And most of the coins in those four sets were either choice Uncirculated or Exquisite Proof!
After the Farouk sale, and after many important collections came to the market in 1954 and 1955 (which had been off the market for decades), there was increased supply and a greater possibility to build major collections. However, this increased supply also attracted more and more people to the hobby. While a lot of great material was becoming available, there were more and more collectors out there bidding and buying as well. It was our job at Stack’s to not only find items for Mr. Lilly and our other clients from our own sales and inventory, but also to search for coins using our network of contacts in the hobby.
By contacting dealers here in the United States, reviewing auction catalogs and attending many numismatic sales nationwide, we were able to gather together many new additions to the Lilly Collection. Of course we contacted many collectors nationwide as well, asking if they were thinking of selling their collections, or even if they wanted to sell some of their duplicates. The hunt for new coins became a “search and find” operation, sometimes spending quite a bit of time looking for particular items.
In the early 1960s Stack’s was selected to offer the George O. Walton Collection for auction after that gentleman’s unfortunate death in an accident. Our sale was held in October of 1963, and included Mr. Walton’s important collection of Pioneer and Territorial items. As Mr. Lilly had chosen to build a world-class collection of these historical coins, we were able to add substantially to his holdings, including some great rarities. However, as the collection grew, it became more difficult to make major additions and we had to rely on finding coins when and where we could.