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What Do I Collect?

By Harvey G. Stack, Senior Numismatic Consultant

Author: Stack's Bowers Galleries / Tuesday, April 09, 2013 / Categories: Harvey G. Stack Remembers
In my last article I answered the question “Do dealers collect?” with a resounding “Yes, they do!” This week I will answer another question that I am often asked: “What do you collect?”

To tell you the truth, I gravitated toward series that were not commercially in vogue at the time I collected them. I have always been a student of history and the lore of the past and this, in combination with the economic training I received in college, led me to an interest in pioneer and territorial ingots. These were the introduction of currency, primarily in the western United States. Occasionally as part of a collection, Stack’s would acquire gold nuggets, mixed metal ingots (made of a combination of gold, silver and copper), and other ingots with assayer names, weights, and valuations stamped on them.

Back in the 1950s, I didn’t have the funds to acquire gold ingots and so I concentrated on the mixed metal ones that came into the shop. At the time the value of the bullion and silver were small, so I could acquire some of the pieces. I became interested in the mining areas where the precious metal was found and also in the history of the assayers and refiners, some of whom worked “right on the spot.” I learned of the history surrounding these early monetary ingots, starting with the discovery of gold in California in 1848, the difficulties of panning and mining, the primitive living conditions and the early use of dust and nuggets in commerce. I learned of how San Francisco developed virtually overnight as the port city where supplies came in and precious metals went out. I learned of how the people in the West progressed from using dust and nuggets, to assayed metal bars with their values stamped in dollars and cents, and eventually to coins, both private and, eventually, federal.

J.K. Lilly, who also was fascinated by the sea and the monetary history of the Western Hemisphere, shared these interests. He started his collection with a dozen different doubloons from Stack’s in 1951. I had the opportunity to discuss these matters with him and enjoyed talking with him about the economics, history and lore of early western United States culture.

I eventually gave my collection of silver and mixed metal ingots to the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian Institution where it still resides today.