Harvey Stack Remembers
The year 1968 saw important changes in the entire numismatic world. Attitudes toward precious metals shifted, several important collections entered the market, the extensive J.K. Lilly Collection joined the National Numismatic Collection, and the public’s interest in collecting both domestic and world coins flourished, infusing the coin marketplace with renewed energy. Our success in the case regarding the restrictions on the importation of gold, also encouraged collectors of world and ancient coins, increasing both buying and selling, which had a positive effect on the numismatic market.
Additionally, the revaluation of gold and silver helped build the public’s interest in these metals. The Treasury revalued gold from $35 an ounce to $38.50 and the value of silver rose about 20% of its original base price of $1.19 and kept climbing. Speculation in silver coins, such as dimes, quarters, half dollars, and silver dollars became a driving force on the market and had a direct effect on the value of precious metal and circulating coins. Even silver certificates were sold at a premium in the early part of 1968. All these factors had a positive effect as the general public searched through loose change, emptied their piggy banks and got more from the sale of the metal, than the face value. Coin dealers, hock shops and jewelers were inundated with people redeeming their silver coins.
Adding to the building excitement of the numismatic world was news of the Josiah K. Lilly Collection, a massive collection of gold coins. After we prepared an inventory, Schulman and Kosoff provided the appraisal and an initial market value was determined for the collection. The individual coins (in 1968 dollars), were valued at $4.5 million, but the collection as a whole was appraised at $5.5 million for its vastness and completeness. Now the executors were tasked with finding a buyer or selecting an auctioneer. Dr. and Mrs. Clain-Stefanelli examined the collection with the intention of securing it for the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian. They worked with several senators and congressmen and were able to convince them that acquiring the J.K. Lilly Collection, with its thousands of gold coins, would result in a world class national collection. In addition, they cautioned that allowing it to be lost or broken up by private auction and sale would be foolhardy, as its scope could never be duplicated.
The Congress of the United States voted and acquired the collection for the initial appraisal of $5.5 million. To sweeten the deal for the estate, by proclamation the government “technically removed it from the estate” as if it had been gifted to the Smithsonian; the $5.5 million was credited to any taxes that the estate owed. It was a great deal for all. I was part of the committee who helped the Smithsonian negotiate the deal. I was honored to be present at the opening day of the exhibit; helping to secure this major addition to our national collection is a continued source of pride for me.
In the fall of 1968 the famous R.L. Miles, Jr. Collection of United States gold, silver and copper coins was consigned to us at Stack’s. It had been assembled over four decades, and many of the coins had been supplied by Stack’s privately or through our public auctions.
With our help at Stack’s, R.L. Miles Jr. assembled as complete a collection of United States coins, gold, silver, and copper as he could from the coins that were available during his collecting years. And, indeed, it grew into a major, comprehensive collection by the time it was to be offered by public auction. Miles had been nicknamed Skinny by his classmates in high school and college when he played on their football teams, and at Stack’s we were permitted to use this nickname with him. In my next article I will tell more of this great person and his marvelous collection.