By Harvey Stack – Co-Founder, Stack’s Bowers Galleries ……
The year 1975 became a great year for the continued growth of Stack’s.
It was in January of 1975 that Harvey G. Stack was appointed to be a Governor of the United States Assay Commission. I was to serve in the year of 1976, The Bicentennial Year. I received his appointment from President Gerald Ford. It was a great honor, and it was felt that the Bicentennial Assay Commission might be the last one to be convened as the United States no longer used precious metal to strike our national coinage. More symbolic than meaningful, the appointment nevertheless was a great honor for a numismatist who had spent a life in the hobby.
1976 was also the year that the United States Mint, after a long discussion, agreed to show the Louis E. Eliasberg Collection of United States Coins. Originally, Mint officials wanted to retrieve the Mint Cabinet, which was donated years before to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Collection and put it on display. The Smithsonian was reluctant to transfer the coins back to the Mint, so getting the opportunity to display the most famous coin collection in United States history solved a major problem. After negotiating the deal, Smithsonian officials and the collection’s curators thanked us profusely.
Of course, as with any government agency the final move and exhibit took lots of time to arrange, and in my next installment I will relate “how the Eliasberg Collection got to the Mint.” (also included in or the display, was the Eliasberg Collection of Gold Coins of the World, a very large and impressive collection, which the Mint did not know at the outset would also be contributed and on display!)
It was a busy and meaningful time.
At the beginning of 1975, we learned that we were awarded the Public Auction Sale for the Bicentennial year by the American Numismatic Association, which was to be held in New York. This, of course, was a win for us, as the natural location for the convention in 1976 would have been Philadelphia, but there was no location available to run a major convention that year!
We, being based in New York, had an advantage over the other bidders for running the ANA auction. But of course, when you dealt with the ANA, there always a “hook” to your bid. At the time, the ANA was determined to expand its home in Colorado Springs and required a bid of $50,000 so they could make an addition in order to increase the size of the ANA Library. For the record, $50,000 in 1976 was a tidy sum and really cut into the potential profit that any dealer could expect to make from the sale.
We explained to the ANA that a sale in conjunction with the convention would require a major group of consignments, that a large number of catalogs would have to be produced and distributed, and that a number of lots needed a large staff to adequately show them off to potential bidders. The expenses associated with running a sale at the size necessary to turn a profit and cover the $50,000 was enormous. It was a very big ask!
The contract was worked out by my cousin Ben Stack. Ben was known for driving a hard bargain; he was a great negotiator. The deal he struck stipulated that we would pay the $50,000 fee, but only if Stack’s got a proper accounting of how the funds were being used. It was widely known amongst those in the industry, that the ANA had a habit of diverting money that it had received from various sources, including dues, to spend on pet projects that the association’s officers wanted to be done, and rarely, were the funds set aside directly for their intended projects. Of course, this is not uncommon with non-profit organizations, but Ben was adamant about this stipulation.
Of course, the ANA didn’t like the deal, but as project deadlines grew closer, they had no other choice but to accept our proposal. And so, with an agreement in place, we became the official auctioneers of the 1976 ANA convention. For the record, the deal cost us an additional $10,000 because the ANA accepted a low ball bid and needed additional funds in order to finish construction on time. So we paid for it. The ANA got its new library and the wing was named the “Stack’s Gallery.” The price of this honor was the additional $10,000.
A HISTORY-MAKING YEAR IN PUBLIC AUCTIONS BY STACK’S
The rare coin market continued to grow in 1975, somewhat motivated by the accumulation from a change of silver coins, which dealers bought and sold, and the fact that fixed gold coin prices (as bullion became more valuable) attracted many newcomers to the hobby. More beginners matured in the hobby and became established collectors, and advanced collectors were eager to buy coins at the rising market levels as they tried to complete their collections. It was a good time for the numismatics in America.
The year of 1975 was a history-making year for Stack’s as we had ten important sales, consigned to us by collectors and their estates, universities, and institutes. All of these were important collections that remain known today for those committed to pedigree research.
The year started with some 1,282 coins from the ESSEX INSTITUTE of Salem, Mass, which charted 1821 to preserve and store valuable documents and colonial items of Essex County, which was an important region for the economic growth of the Commonwealth.
The collection was assembled through public donations and due to limited space, could not be adequately displayed.
To deal with this problem, the institute decided to keep representative coinage of the early days of our country and consigned the rest to us so that with the money raised from the sale of the coins, it could fund the expansion of its archives.
Highlights of the sale were a comprehensive collection of United States colonial issues and federal issues struck through the turn of 20th century. In addition, the collection contained a sampling of coinage from overseas that was brought to the New World by European settlers.
The James A. Stack Quarter and Half Dollar Collection and Others
In March, we were given the James A. Stack Quarter and Half Dollar Collection. James Stack, whose collection has long been considered one of the greatest assembled in the 20th century, shared the same last name with Stack family but was not related to us (as far as we know!). Still, my father, Morton, always called “Jim” his “Dutch cousin”. They even looked alike. James Stack was a textile broker in Wall Street, who, after his wife passed away, lived in the Roosevelt Hotel, just a few blocks from Stack’s on 46th Street. The collection was started by his father James. Both father and son had a tremendous eye for quality and when in 1975 James the younger decided to sell a portion of the collection, collectors had the opportunity to buy an outstanding selection of quarters and half dollars, including many with important pedigrees.
Among his quarters, were the 1796 and 1804 in Mint State; an 1827 “Original” and “Restrike” in Proof; an 1842 “Small Date” in Proof; and a virtually complete run of early Proofs and Mint State quarters struck through 1930. It was one of the most complete premium quality quarter collections offered throughout the entire decade.
The Half Dollar Collection spanned 1794 to 1947 and was a comprehensive offering by date and mint and contained many of the finest known pieces.
Highlights included the 1794 and 1796 (both types) and the 1797 (virtually all in Mint State); an 1807 in Proof; the rare 1837-O in Proof; the 1846, 1849 to 1855 issues in Proof; plus the rare CC-Mint issues in Mint State.
Many of the Stack half dollars are considered today to be important examples of their respective issues.
The three-day sale concluded after the 685 pieces crossed the auction block.
Two weeks after the Stack sale, Stack’s offered the Dr. David A. Spence collection of U.S. Colonial Coins and a collection of U.S. Half cents from an unnamed consignor. The Spence collection, though small in number, was one of the period’s finest offerings of Colonial issues. Approximately half of the issues in the collection were in Mint State, or virtually so.
The half cent collector was known to a number of half cent collectors, but he insisted that he did not want his name to be made public for personal reasons. Regardless, bidding was highly enthusiastic! Specialist collectors recognized the quality of each piece. We had worked with the consignor for years and saw the collection grow quickly after the first pieces were purchased at our Anderson DuPont sale in 1954.
A review of the catalog will attest to the collector’s desire to buy and own the rarest and choicest half cents on the market. His collection included the two rarest 1796 varieties in Mint State; the 1801 “Restrike” in Proof; and most of the Proof issues dated 1831 to 1857.
The collector took advantage of the collecting prowess that was evidenced in the Anderson DuPont Collection and just outbid all of those who attended. From our side of the auctioneer’s podium, it was an illustration of the complete dedication of a bidder to take home what he came to buy! We maintained a good relationship with the collector over the years and now, two decades later, we were rewarded with the opportunity to sell his prized collection to a new generation of collectors.
In April, Stack’s sold a number of lesser-known collections, spanning the areas of United States gold, silver, and copper, plus coins from Europe and Lating America. In a strong market, these sales gave less specialized collectors a chance to add to their collections.
Most Stack’s sales, other than our highly specialized offerings, were designed with the attitude of trying to have something for everyone.
At the end of May, we offered a major consignment from Cornell and Morgenthal Universities. As was the case with the Essex Institute, neither of these Universities had the ability to properly care for or display their numismatic holdings. As the two collections complimented one another, we merged them into a joint catalog.
In the latter part of June, we offered the Robert J. Kissner Collection of U.S. Large Cents, a specialized collection that included many varieties and high-quality pieces struck from 1793 to 1814. The sale consisted of 836 lots and included a comprehensive selection of early colonial coins with a strong emphasis on New Jersey coppers.
In October, Stack’s conducted another highlight auction, offering the U.S. Coin Collection formed by Dr. E.Y. Clark. Clark had been a client since the mid-1940s and had attended many of our auctions over the course of his 30-year collecting career. Clark had assembled a complete set of $3 gold coins (no 1870-S) comprised of mostly Proof and Mint State examples. He put together a specialized collection of halves, included a 1794, both 1796 types, a 1797, and many draped bust issues, most in Mint State. He also had the rare 1838-O with a pedigree and an 1853-O “No Arrows” from the Cox Collection.
We concluded our auction year with the sale of the Dalton Family Collection, which contained a range of pieces from small cents to gold, many in exceptional condition. The Dalton highlights included a number of branch mint gold coins from Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans.
As you can imagine, with all the activity, both on the buying and selling side, 1975 was a great year of growth for Stack’s and for the hobby.
As we headed into the bicentennial, Americans were focused more than ever on the history of the country and their place in the pageant of American life. 1976 was shaping up to be a banner year for coins and with preparations underway, we headed into the new year with every expectation that the 1976 ANA sale would be the biggest one ever.
What happened next? Find out in the next installment.
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