A Story That Should Be Told, Part II

"Numismatics and America’s Bicentennial Celebration – 1776 – 1976"

In Part Two of this story, Harvey Stack remembers his part in creating a memorable exhibit at the United States Mint in Philadelphia as part of our nation’s 1976 Bicentennial Celebration.

A Possible Answer

The answer came to me! I had worked on a display idea for the Eliasberg Collection for several years. Could I convince Louis (which he permitted us to call him), to loan his collection to the Mint? How could we sell the idea to him?
I went to Baltimore to speak to him on the subject, expecting to be rejected, as he originally wanted to display the collection nationwide, and then offer it for sale in a series of auction catalogs.

I made my presentation, saying the collection could get recognition for about two years at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, could be seen by the tens of millions of people who would visit Philadelphia, get national recognition from the press and raise the interest of those he had tried to convince earlier.

Louis Eliasberg, listened to my idea, while smoking his large cigar, waited for me to conclude, then got up from his chair and said "My boy, that is a great idea!” He continued: "Go see the Mint, the various Treasury Department officials, and, if you have to, even the Secretary of the Treasury. I would like to see it done!"

Making the Idea a Reality

First we had to muster the forces of the Smithsonian, get the directors on our side and use whatever political pull they had to get the Idea rolling. Of course, during the many years that the Stefanellis were curators they made lots of friends and we went to all of them. They backed the project completely. (Like all good Museum people, they wanted what was “in their museum to stay in their museum.”)

We had a strong working committee to approach the Mint. Even though the Mint was considered part of the U.S. Treasury Department, their operations (and exhibits) operated somewhat autonomously from the Treasury. We approached a slew of minor Mint officials and finally got to the Director of the Mint. It was a hard sell. He felt during the Bicentennial he should show coins and medals that were once part of the Mint Cabinet. We convinced him of the importance of the Eliasberg Collection–that it was more impressive, as well as more complete, and showed all the Mint’s products (coins and medals), rather than a scattering of various issues. We said that as the only complete collection of United States Coins ever assembled, the Louis E. Eliasberg Collection would attract collectors– people of all walks of life–as well as bring in the press and uphold the status of the Mint, at a time that the nation was celebrating 200 years of Independence.

Our arguments must have sunk in, for after the discussions, he agreed to have the Eliasberg Collection as the feature exhibit at the Bicentennial Celebration. Even though he was autonomous in his decision, he had us return to the Treasury in Washington to get their approval as well. We went as far as the Secretary of the Treasury to be sure we covered all bases.

A Contract is Drawn

Next we had to establish the "ground rules" for the exhibit. Louis Eliasberg, Sr. was not well enough to manage the display, movement and contracting with the Mint. He had his son Louis Eliasberg, Jr. take over the project for him.

Louis, Jr., was a person who did things in great detail. Being in business with his father and brother made him be careful to "Dot all his ‘I’s and cross all his ‘T’s’.” As is the case in the Eliasberg family, father knows best, (right or wrong)

So the contracts were drawn, stating that the Eliasberg Collection would be a feature exhibit at the Mint during the Bicentennial (on exhibit for two years, if needed), would be protected during the exhibit by government armed guards, and would be transported from Baltimore to Philadelphia in armored cars with two lead cars in front, followed by two chase cars in the rear. The collection would be insured for some exceedingly high value as it was irreplaceable. On and on went the details that Louis Jr. had put into the contract for the exhibit. He insisted that he would accompany the collection in one of the escort cars. This almost killed the deal, as the government rarely, if ever, had non-government personnel in security vehicles. After a short and somewhat heated discussion, Louis Jr. got his way and in the spring of 1976, the collection was to be moved, as the contract said, to the Mint in Philadelphia.

Then it Happened

One of the terms of the contract stated that the collection was to be escorted by "armed personnel.” Louis Jr., realized the collection was traveling interstate, and that his personal gun permit was not legal, as it was only valid in the state of Maryland. He asked the people ay the Mint to get him a Federal Carry Permit, but they said that they could not provide it. “Ask Treasury,” they said. The people at Treasury felt it was not important to issue such a permit for the reasons given by Louis Jr. This was just a few days before the shipment was to take place. "Then the collection will remain in Baltimore,” Louis stated. He felt since Treasury was in charge of firearms and ammunition they could easily issue a permit to satisfy his wishes. After much negotiating, the permit was issued and Louis Jr. could carry his gun on the interstate journey. (It seems Louis felt that since his father charged him with the responsibility of safeguarding the collection that he had to be able to protect it if threatened.)

A few days later, after a four-hour drive, the caravan, loaded with some 10 large cases housing the coins all mounted in their special frames, together with their custom circular racks to display the frames, arrived at the receiving entrance to the almost completed, new U.S. Mint Building in Philadelphia. Louis Jr. left his car to personally witness the review of the papers and documents presented to the armed guards at the entranceway. He then personally supervised the unloading of the cases, escorted them to the special area in the main lobby of the Mint, and saw to it that all had arrived and was receipted properly. Since it was late in the day, the cases were moved to a special secure area, so they could be worked on the following morning.

As I was already at the Mint, awaiting the arrival of the Collection, I was at the Mint early that morning to assist Louis Jr. with unpacking and setting up the exhibit. Each locked and sealed case was opened, the display frames checked, and then each frame was mounted in its appropriate rack. Each rack held about a dozen frames. Louis Jr. checked his inventories carefully and personally inspected each installation. Hours later, the job was complete. As I watched, Louis Jr. inserted special seals into each frame on the racks, and personally sealed them in place. The Louis E. Eliasberg Collection was now ready for viewing when the new U.S. Mint opened its doors. Louis Jr. left the area, in order to report to his father in Baltimore that the job was done.

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