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A Busy Week: Smithsonian Event and Stack’s Bowers Whitman Auction Lots We’re Following

Washington DC, Baltimore, Maryland. Lilly Collection - Stack's Bowers

By Charles Morgan for CoinWeek …..

It’s shaping up to be a very busy week for numismatics and, weather permitting (sleet is currently coming down and covering the road with slushy ice in Central Virginia), I will make my way up north and take in both what is shaping up to be Stack’s Bowers most exciting sale of the year and a once-in-a-lifetime private showing in Washington, D.C. of the Josiah K. Lilly Collection – which is being put together by National Numismatic Collection Curator Dr. Ellen Feingold for the Friends of the Smithsonian.

The Lilly Collection of Gold Coins

Josiah K. Lilly was a wealthy collector and president of Eli Lilly and Company, the pharmaceutical giant that was the first company to mass-produce the polio vaccine. Active from 1950-1966, Lilly worked closely with the Stack family to assemble a major collection of gold coins, from ancient times to the modern day. Following his death, the Stack family worked on his estate’s behalf to arrange for the donation of 6,125 pieces to the Smithsonian Institution. To make the donation possible, the Indiana Congressional delegation introduced special legislation to authorize that the estate receive a $5,534,806 USD tax credit for the coins. The acquisition filled most of the National Numismatic Collection’s want list and visitors to the museum’s Value of Money exhibit, on display now, are treated to a small taste of the Lilly collection’s impressive holdings.

On the evening of Wednesday, November 13, the curatorial staff will present the entire collection of Lilly gold coins to VIPs in a private exhibition. I am honored that Dr. Feingold extended an invitation to me.

Stack’s Bowers November 2019 Auction

On Thursday, I will make my way up to Baltimore to attend the Whitman Baltimore Expo. The Whitman Expo is held three times a year and draws collectors from the mid-Atlantic region and dealers from across the country. In recent years, the Whitman Expo has been the venue for the launch of the United States Mint’s sell-out National Baseball Hall of Fame coin program and the location of a number of Stack’s Bowers’ most important sales, including the sale of the Joel R. Anderson Paper Money Collection and the final session of the D. Brent Pogue Family Collection.

At this show, Stack’s Bowers will offer major collections of United States colonial coins, Washingtoniana, Comitia Americana and related medals, paper money, and U.S. coin rarities. For the remainder of this article, I’d like to share with you a few of the lots that I’m most interested in.

Comitia Americana and Related Medals: The John W. Adams Collection

John Weston Adams is one of his generation’s most accomplished collectors and numismatic scholars.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Adams has devoted a lifetime to numismatics, assembling notable collections of large cents, medals, numismatic literature, and other properties. Bowers & Merena sold his extensive collection of 1794 large cents in 1982 and his outstanding collection of Indian Peace Medals of George III was sold by Stack’s in 1999. The current sale of Comitia Americana and Related Medals was assembled by John and written extensively about in his 2007 book by the same name.

These medals are being sold in the raw and offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the knowledgable collector. As always, lot viewing in person or professional representation is an important facet of the bidding process.

There are too many medals in this catalog to provide an exhaustive piece-by-piece breakdown. Suffice it to say, for those who have a deep appreciation for history and for whom money is no object, Adams’ Comitia Americana and Related Medal Collection offers ample servings of numismatic nirvana.

Lot 2002 is a choice uncirculated example of the rare original 1776 Washington Before Boston medal (Betts-542). Lot 2008 is an extremely rare (unique in private hands) About Uncirculated example of an original 1777 (struck in between 1787-1789) Horatio Gates at Saratoga Medal in silver. Lot 2021 is the only Original Anthony Wayne at Stony Point Medal in private hands. This seldom offered medal was acquired by Adams in 1986 from collector Dr. Paul Patterson.

From a design perspective, my favorite medal in the collection is the elusive original silver John Paul Jones Medal (Lot 2029). This piece is one of five known and came into the Adams collection via private treaty sale by collector John J. Ford, Jr. The medal is described as being in About Uncirculated condition but has sharp and bold details and a layer of attractive blue and gold toning. Stack’s Bowers believes that this medal has not appeared in public auction for at least a century.

In an era where most telephone book-sized auction catalogs head straight to the recycling bin after the sale is concluded. This is one catalog that I’m sure will find a permanent home on the shelves of a number of medal collectors and researchers. Hat tip to the cataloging team (which I assume included the heavy involvement of John Kraljevich) for the outstanding effort and great lot-by-lot content.

State Department Life Saving Medal

Lot 142: Undated (1861) State Department Life Saving Medal

Numismatic Americana is one of our hobby’s most exciting areas of study. Not only do collectors have a rich catalog of medals and tokens struck to commemorative our nation’s greatest patriots and public figures, but we also see a number of objects produced to recognize ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

Lot 142 is an undated State Department Life Saving medal, which is believed to have been issued in 1861. This gold medal is one of 19 struck between 1860 and 1874 and was awarded to British Captain Joseph Spear Wallis for his rescue of passengers from the American ship David Brown, which sunk in the Atlantic in January 1861. The rescue occurred midway between South America and north-western Africa, where those onboard weathered the open ocean for more than 10 days before rescue.

This impressive medal is beautifully engraved and is graded MS-60 by NGC.

Current Bid: $19,000

Paper Money

Lot 10177: Unique Fr. 212f 1865 $500 Interest Bearing Note


It has been a wild two years for paper money collecting, both on the auction block and behind the scenes. On a personal/professional level, this has been the year where I began my first deep dive into U.S. paper money study. This, despite the fact that my oftentimes co-writer, CoinWeek Assistant Editor Hubert Walker and I, have taken home two NLG Awards for articles on the subject. Capturing my interest was the multi-session sale of the collection of Books-A-Million / Whitman Publishing owner Joel R. Anderson. That dream collection of obsolete notes, collecting over several decades, contained many million-dollar rarities and more than a few unique pieces. This note, an 1865 $500 Interest Bearing Note (Fr 212f) signed by Colby and Spinner was one of them.

The note has a fascinating back story. As told by Stack’s Bowers in the catalog, the note features multiple cancellation marks and contemporary alterations to the serial number that were probably undertaken in an effort to redeem the note a second time. Beneath the note’s official, yet incomplete serial number “7811…” digit is a handwritten complete number of “78116”.

Offered in Session #4, this note, then in a PCGS Currency Very Fine 25 holder sold for $336,000 (with Buyer’s Premium) against a pre-sale estimate of $200,000-$300,000. It is offered here in a PMG holder, where it did cross in the same grade. The reasons for the note’s quick auction turn around are for me to contemplate, but what I can say is that having a shot at this note in November 2019 is a serious opportunity. Quick turnarounds often lead to depressed prices the second go-around and with an opening bid of $180,000 and what is almost certainly a slightly lower temperature on the part of bidders, we may see this piece enter into “bargain” territory.

Pre-Sale Estimate: $300,000-$500,000; Opening Bid: $180,000

Charles Morgan
Charles Morgan
Charles Morgan is an award-winning numismatic author and the editor and publisher of Along with co-author Hubert Walker, he has written for CoinWeek since 2012, as well as the "Market Whimsy" column for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing. From 2021-2023, Charles served as Governor of the American Numismatic Association (ANA), where he was bestowed the Glenn Smedley Award. Charles is a member of numerous numismatic organizations, including the American Numismatic Society (ANS) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG).

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