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1947, It Was A Very Good Year!

Although I had been in and out of the Stack’s stores as a youngster, I began working full-time with my father, Morton, and my Uncle Joseph B. Stack in 1947 when the firm they had founded in 1933 was located at 12 West 46th Street. Stack’s had already outgrown its downtown starting point at 690 Sixth Avenue and its first midtown premises at 32 West 46th. Before very long, changing patterns of businesses located on 46th Street would make another move necessary, but for now this location near the bustling Diamond District seemed ideal.

My dad and uncle owned the building in which we were located. The premises included our upstairs auction gallery, as ads of the time boast, but change was on the way. The war had been over for two years and despite some pessimistic predictions in the American Numismatic Association journal The Numismatist, coin market prices were not just holding up, they were starting a remarkable advance that would set the tone through the beginning of the 1950s and far beyond.

New York City was very much “the place to be” in 1947. The glittering era of the Twenties was now only a memory, and the terrible years of the Depression in the 1930s were now receding into the past. The city’s reforming mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia was at the United Nations and the government was inching back toward the more free-wheeling habits of earlier years.

In the world of numismatics, New York was in transition from the pre-war world typified by such giants as publisher-dealer Wayte Raymond, whose Standard Catalogue of United States Coins dominated the U.S. field. Just off the press in Racine, Wisconsin, was the first edition of the Guide Book of United States Coins, compiled by Richard S. Yeoman and published by Whitman. Soon known everywhere as “The Red Book,” this slim volume swept the world of coin collecting thanks to its popular style and Whitman’s unmatched distribution network, which included such outlets as Woolworth’s as well as to book stores and coin dealers.

In New York City some older firms were restructuring, including New Netherlands Coin Co., founded in 1936 by the late Moritz Wormser (five time ANA president), and now headed by his son Charles, just out of the U.S. Navy. Inactive in numismatics for a brief period was a young man named John J. Ford, Jr., who had worked at Stack’s from around 1938 until he joined the U.S. Army in 1943.

Active on East 50th Street was Abe Kosoff, who lived in what was the fashionable suburb of Mount Vernon. His greatest triumph had been the 1945-1946 sales of “The World’s Greatest Collection,” that of Union News mogul F.C.C. Boyd. Boyd switched his numismatic allegiance to John J. Ford a few years later with long-lasting effects on the numismatic marketplace in the 21st century.

Stack’s first public auction was held on October 18, 1935. From that point sales were held regularly, including offerings throughout the war years. Stack’s made the headlines with their offering of the Col. James W. Flanagan collection in March 1944, a sale including the 1933 double eagle. That coin’s seizure by the Secret Service was a major event in the ongoing saga of that famous U.S. gold coin.

December 1944 saw the sale of the “Jacob F. Bell” collection, gold coins of Chicago financier Jacob F. Shapiro, a long-standing Stack’s customer. In 1947, the year I went full time, on the auction calendar was our February 13 sale, our 81st public auction, which offered the Dr. E.F. Slater Collection. This year saw other auctions of major importance, notably the October 2 sale of the “H.R. Lee” Collection, actually a significant sale of major duplicates from the holdings of Baltimore numismatist Louis E. Eliasberg.

Stack’s was then open to the public six days each week, and I joined my cousin Norman on weekend duty. Saturdays were especially busy, although the weekdays continued their active pace. The noon hours from Monday through Friday brought in hordes of stock brokers, attorneys, and other professionals determined to make the most of their mid-day break. Wonderful things “walked in” in those years just after the war, including on one notable occasion the violin once owned by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Stack’s continued its “club house” atmosphere in these bustling years, a friendly and productive custom. This numismatic social interaction was important in a numismatic world offering only two monthly publications, the ANA’s Numismatist and Lee F. Hewitt’s Numismatic Scrapbook, published in Chicago. Stack’s mastery of the U.S. coin field was already assured. A successful bridgehead into ancient and world coins was established when the firm brought aboard such significant world numismatists as Henry Grunthal, Hans Holzer, and later Vladimir and Elvira Clain-Stefanelli, George Wehr, and Jan Risk.

During 1943-1947 we published the Numismatic Review with a stellar list of contributors headed by Hunter College professor Thomas Ollive Mabbot. These staff members were key parts of Morton and Joe Stack’s amazingly forward-looking planning since the 1930s, which had been based in large measure on their understanding of the importance of “image.”

Image was what had set Stack’s apart from the many mom and pop hobby shops, stamp shops with a few coins, and the “grandmother’s attic” shops of the era. Cluttered and fascinating, these shops offered all manner of antiques, Indian relics, stamps and other jumbled items, in bold contrast to the clean lines and beautifully furnished facilities at 12 West 46th Street.

There was a well established network of active numismatic organizations in the five boroughs in 1947. Uptown near the northern tip of Manhattan was the 90-year-old American Numismatic Society (ANS), recognized as the center of scholarly research in the U.S. In 1947 Stack’s and the ANS were well acquainted, linked by such staff members as Henry Grunthal and such figures as copper cent guru Dr. William H. Sheldon.

The premier collectors’ group in Manhattan was the New York Numismatic Club (NYNC), then approaching its 40th anniversary and headed in 1947 by Joseph H. Spray, whose collecting emphasized the finest condition available in both U.S. and British coins. Spray was a regular at Stack’s, as were his successors as NYNC president, Damon G. Douglas and Martin F. Kortjohn.

Noted as an organizer of coin clubs in Connecticut as well as New York was Oscar G. Shilke, co-founder of the New York Numismatic Conventions, of which Stack’s was long the official auctioneer. These were men of imposing presence to a young dealer as I was in 1947. None was as imposing as Harold S. Bareford, a man of strong opinions to match his rugged features.

I was once horrified to see Bareford handling major American rarities with his fingers and spoke up, “Mr. Bareford, you shouldn’t be touching those coins with your bare hands!” He froze me with a glance, extended his powerful hands toward me and growled, “Young man, I have the driest hands in the business!”

Other clubs then active and playing a role in the Metropolitan New York Numismatic Conventions were the Bronx Coin Club, and the Fairfield County (Connecticut) and New Jersey groups. Stack’s enjoyed close ties to all of these groups, although only NYNC is still fully active into the 21st century.

1947 was a delightful year for me, and I recall it with warm satisfaction, as many of the friendships formed then continued for years to come, some even until today.

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