and Mrs. Clain-Stefanelli, were the most amazing team of numismatists to serve
the hobby in the 20th century. They were considered a “remarkable
treasure in numismatics “ for
their help in developing our National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian
Institution, in Washington DC, into one
of the most extensive and important museum collections in the world.
Stefanellis were both born in Europe, studied there, and served for a number of
years as consultants for the Vatican Collection, They then worked in Rome for
Santa Maria Numismatics. They met Robert Hecht, who owned Hisperia Art, and
moved to the United States after World War II to work with Hecht for a few years. In 1951 Dr. Stefanelli and his wife Elvira, came
on board to lead the Foreign and Ancient
Department of Stack’s and helped make it a leading dealership in America. Both
were accomplished experts in
Ancient, medieval and other coins issued before the 20th century. They lectured
and wrote books on various subjects.
1956 Vladimir and Elvira received an invitation to become curators of the
National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian. The Stack family encouraged them to take
the position, as their knowledge and love of numismatics could be shared with all who visited the Museum.
National Numismatic Collection was housed in the “Castle” on the
lower level. When the Smithsonian opened a new building in 1961 called The
National Museum of American History, the Stefanellis secured a large area in
the new structure to house the Collection.
they arrived, the National Numismatic Collection contained some 60,000 coins.
By the time of Dr. Stefanelli’s death in 1982 it had more than 900,000 pieces.
The growth of the Collection resulted from the tireless efforts of the two
Stefanellis to encourage donations from collectors and dealers in order to enhance the scope of the collection. Among the
great collections from which they received donations was the Willis
H. duPont collection of more than 12,000 Russian coins in all metals, including
platinum. This grouping, one of the most complete in the world, was from the
Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich estate. In addition, the
Stefanellis were able to facilitate donations from cabinets belonging to the Norwebs, Paul Straub, Zabriski, Neiken, the
Stack family and many others. As is true for many museums, the budget allotted
to Numismatics was meager, so gifts from collectors and dealers were essential for the growth of the National
my next part of this article I will tell more about the Stefanellis’
illustrious careers in numismatics.