Harvey Stack Remembers: Growing Up in a Numismatic Family, Part 97

After rejoining the
firm at the end of his military service in 1955, Norman, a dedicated and knowledgeable
collector, decided to build a high quality type set that Stack’s could use to show
a good way to start collecting. A type set offered a chance to learn about and own
various denominations and designs, and explore how coin motifs at the U.S. Mint
evolved over the years. This method of collecting included major and minor
changes to a motif, or even adjustments in weight or composition that altered a
coin’s design in some way. By 1977 Norman, with help from me and my son, Larry,
finished what he felt was a good example of a Type Set of United States
Coinage. We decided to issue a book explaining the coins that would enhance
such a collection. First, we showed all the obverse designs needed to build an
introductory set. Second we featured the various reverse designs that were
used, some of which shared an obverse design, further expanding the set. Third,
we discussed where the coinage of the various mints could fit into the set and
provided a list of major additions to each design (if changes were made) that
could further expand the set.

Norman Stack’s
type set was exhibited as an example of collecting to many beginning
numismatists, as well as those who were more advanced. It was admired by many,
often duplicated or imitated, and became a model for developing collectors of United
States coins. The book that was created, though copyrighted in 1977, featured
color photographs and by the mid 1980s had become an outline for this popular
way of collecting. This panoramic approach to acquiring U.S. coins provided a
goal in and of itself, but also led many to develop an interest in a specific
denomination, series or design that took them on an entirely new numismatic
journey. This “textbook” for building a type set was one more thing that added
to the growth of the hobby during the 1980s, and some of the collectors who
used it built fine pedigreed collections.

The continued
growth in coin collecting and the publicity about the hobby attracted
promoters, who entered the field not because of interest but specifically to
make money. Some were unscrupulous which resulted in sales of polished,
doctored and counterfeit coins being advertised and sold as high quality
collector items. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent out the few people
they could to investigate and stop these fraudulent activities, with the goal
of arresting the offenders and punishing them with fines and/or jail. While
they tried the larger dealers, they found that most offenders were smaller
general store merchants or fraudulent mail order houses, not those whose
businesses had staffs of knowledgeable professional numismatists. This
situation led to the FTC wanting to start a licensing requirement that would be
similar to that which governed pawn brokers and second-hand dealers. The
problem was that this might require a coin dealer to hold for a minimum of 30
days before selling anything bought from a private individual or business. For
those who dealt in precious metals that could mean losing a fortune. And for
those with limited capital, holding items for a month without reselling was an
impossibility. This would be considered over the next few years, protested by
numismatic organizations, and would not be resolved until 1989, when Barry Cutler
debated Luis Vigdor and myself in a forum. (But that is a story for a later chapter.)

As the interest in
numismatics grew, some well known collectors became dealers, issued price lists
and auction catalogs, opened retail stores and attended many coin shows held nationwide.
The Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) expanded its membership to attract as
many professional dealers as it could, and as a leading dealer organization, it
worked to provide stability in the fast growing hobby.

As for Stack’s,
having held our first auction in 1935, we were poised to celebrate our 50th
anniversary of presenting public auction sales, almost 400 in all. While the
founders, Joseph B. and Morton had passed away (as well as my cousin Ben who
died in 1983), the Stack family members who remained – myself, my cousin
Norman, my son Larry, and my daughter Susan – felt this was a very special
year, and that we should be sure to honor it appropriately. We planned for a 50th
Anniversary Sale to feature coins and paper money of all eras from all over the
world, and made a great effort to attract as many consignments as we could for
it, in all fields of numismatics. Assisting us in this were the great
numismatists who made up our staff.

But even before
that important auction, set for October 1985, we had many other sales to
prepare for and present earlier in the year, as well as continuing to be
leaders in the retail side of the hobby, both in our New York City store and at
shows and conventions across the nation.​

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