Harvey Stack Remembers: Growing up in a Numismatic Family, Part 47

Harvey Stack Remembers​

​Also requiring a lot of time and energy at Stack’s was the inventory of Josiah K. Lilly’s vast gold coin collection, which his estate had asked us to do.

After Mr. Lilly’s passing, the Indiana State Bank in Indianapolis was named the executor of his estate. The bank sent Mr. Lilly’s vast rare book library to Indiana University in Bloomington. The Lilly home, Olmstead, which is now located near the Indiana State Museum, was given to the Museum as an additional gallery, with all the art and paintings included. The Lilly Collection of Revolutionary guns and armament together with his collection of some 5,000 miniature lead soldiers, dressed in the many uniforms of our nation, was given to his son, who opened a museum on Cape Cod, where many great items from Mr. Lilly’s nautical collection found a home as well.

When we spoke to the Indiana Bank about the preparation of the inventory of the J.K. Lilly Gold Coin Collection we also provided a plan for the sale of the entire collection at public auction. We were advised after the inventory was completed that they would need, for estate purposes, a full appraisal of the coin collection. However, since we had been so close to Mr. Lilly during the formative years of his collection, the trust officer advised that we might not want to appraise the collection. He advised us that Indiana Estate law prohibited the appraiser from being the purchaser, agent for, or auctioneer of the collection.

With this recommendation, we elected to do the full confirmation of the inventory, prepare the necessary listings that would be required, and help them find an appraiser. At the time we thought of Hans Schulman of New York and Abe Kosoff of California. Hans specialized in foreign and ancient coins, while Abe was a U.S. specialist. Of course this worked in our favor as well, as both Hans and Abe were public auctioneers. If they did the appraisal, they would not be eligible to offer the collection for sale, removing two of our competitors if the collection went to auction. They both accepted the appraisal job and awaited our inventories to prepare their work.

Norman and I went to Indianapolis, and with the help of our index card files of each and every coin we acquired for the collection, we were able to verify for the estate that each coin that we had supplied was as I had last seen it at Eagle’s Nest, Mr. Lilly’s hobby house. We had to make several trips as we couldn’t be away from all of our other duties for Stack’s for extended amounts of time.

It wasn’t till early fall that we completed our part of the job for the estate. I understand that Hans and Abe both went to Indianapolis to start working on a coin by coin appraisal. Some of the coins were so rare that Abe and Hans spent days and weeks trying to find background information for valuation. We were told that the appraisal would not be complete before the early part of 1968.

As 1967 came to an end, Norman, Ben and I tried to find someone who might be willing to acquire this collection intact. However, in 1967 millions of dollars were harder to find than tens of millions are today. So I decided to work with the Smithsonian to try to get the United States to acquire the collection to improve the National Numismatic Collections. I spent the latter part of the year discussing this with Dr. and Mrs. Stefanelli, the curators at the Smithsonian. Once they learned more about the "mystery collection," they wanted to investigate if the Congress of the United States would acquire the collection for the museum.

This year was very challenging and our lawsuit with the OSGO over licensing, offering major collections at auctions, working on the Lilly Estate and keeping up with clients and travel was very time-consuming. For me, it was a year that saw a lot of progress in my "growing up." As we moved into 1968, there were many more great things on the horizon.

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