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Harvey Stack Remembers The 1940s

By Harvey G. Stack, Founder

Author: Harvey G. Stack / Thursday, December 03, 2015 / Categories: Harvey G. Stack Remembers

I first became a full-time employee of Stack’s when the firm was located at 12 West 46th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Prior to that I had pitched in part-time at the previous address, 32 West 46th Street, and as a mere youngster I had known our facility at 690 Sixth Street as well.
The 12 West 46th location became the classic “club house” for collectors of the day, attracting them from all over Connecticut and New Jersey, as well as from the five boroughs making up New York City. People could sit comfortably and chat, and Stack’s did not follow commercial numismatic custom of the day, making customers stand up at a counter or else move on.
I remember listening to Harold Bareford and Martin F. Kortjohn, the latter an up-and-coming collector who was American Numismatic Association president, as well as an active leader in several Metropolitan New York area coin clubs. Additions to this list of visitors would be many, including Otto T. Sghia (Bronx Coin club, president of the New York Numismatic Club), Raymond Gallo, Dr. William H. Sheldon, Doug Smith, Dr. Charles Green, Louis E. Eliasberg, and numerous other notable collectors of the time.
An academically trained German numismatic scholar, before he arrived as a refugee in New York, Henry Grunthal started work with Stack’s in the early 1940s, later becoming a dealer on his own and ultimately a curator of the American Numismatic Society. Henry later commented on the gatherings: “During the war, they had a sofa in front of the store and some of these old collectors wouldn’t buy anything, they just sat there and discussed the progress of the war, and about coins they had, but they weren’t there primarily to buy.”
Cornelius C. Vermeule worked for Stack’s in the mid-1940s, before and after a stay in the Financial Department of the U.S. Army. While in service he cataloged the collection of the Bank of Japan. After being with Stack’s he became a curator of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. From his days in our West 46th Street store, he recalled: “People would come in, sit, talk about coins, discuss things in a very relaxed club-like fashion, as opposed to today’s hurried, frenetic pace.”
All these collectors became teachers to me and my cousins Benjamin and Norman, and we evolved from this numismatic education and mentoring.
The “club house” brought together a group of leaders in numismatics, which later formed the nucleus of the Metropolitan New York Numismatic Conventions, directed by nine major clubs in the new York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area. They had an annual convention in the spring each year during the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.
Stack’s was the auctioneer at these conventions. The dinners held at the end of each show became a “roast” of the Stacks, who always arrived late because of the closing of each auction. Harold Bareford, who served as master of ceremonies, always jested at dinner: “I guess you guys were too busy counting your profits from your sale to be on time for dinner! I’m hungry, so sit down so we all can eat!” This was a typical friendly-sarcastic remark one would hear from Harold.