Snow Versus the Collector, Part 2

As I reported in my last story, the sale of the J.W. Schmandt Collection of United States Gold Silver and Copper Coins went forward on February 1 and 2, 1957, despite the record snowfall and the delays in transportation. According to the weather bureau this February storm was among the worst New York had experienced since they started to keep records in 1888.

As noted, collectors, dealers, and agents fought the foul weather to personally attend the sale. I remember hearing remarks such as: "This sale could be the chance of a lifetime, to go to an auction of great numismatics, with little or no competition." Many thought if they didn’t go they would miss an opportunity to acquire wonderful items at fractions of the market price. Well, some 250 or more attended the sale and the phones rang off the hook with collectors trying to get their bids in. The activity was fierce and the bidding intense. In contrast with what collectors may have expected, many who came saw the quality and rarity of the coins and thought: "Since I am here already, I might as well stay and buy some.” This led to bids on some coins that went even higher than market value.

When I asked attendees why they made this difficult journey, they almost universally answered (paraphrasing the U.S. Post Office motto): "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom stays the numismatist from his desire to improve his collection!”

As I remember this notable sale, I close my eyes and see the auction room full of great collectors and dealers who had made it through the storm to the sale. Among them I recall Louis Werner, Jerry Cohen, Harry Foreman, John J. Pittman, Gaston DiBello, Max Kaplan, Harold Bareford, Martin Kortjohn, Oscar Schilke, James Kelly, John J. Ford, Joseph Spray, to mention just a few. As they waited for the sale to start, they discussed how “crazy” they were to have braved the storm, but all had been unwilling to miss this opportunity to add to their collections or holdings.

One dealer’s experience in the storm bears retelling. Jerry Cohen, a partner of Abner Kreisberg’s in California, came to New York a day or so before the storm hit. He looked at the lots, deciding what he might bid on, and also reviewed the Stack’s inventory. While the streets were still passable he visited a few clients and other dealers in New York. Despite the worsening of the storm, nothing seemed to deter Jerry from "making his rounds." On the morning of February 1, as the storm intensified, Jerry decided to visit New Netherlands Coin Company, to see Charles Wormser and John J. Ford. As their offices were about 10 city blocks from Stack’s, he ventured out, walked down Fifth Avenue, and entered their building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 47th Street, using the entrance located on Fifth Avenue (they had entrances on both streets).

After visiting awhile, Jerry decided to head back to Stack’s before the storm got any worse. So he left New Netherlands using the 47th Street door, starting off in the wrong direction. The snow was heavy, almost a whiteout situation, but Jerry kept going. About a half mile from where he started, he encountered a policeman and asked: “Where am I? I want to get to 57th Street and 6th Avenue." The officer replied: “You walked east rather than north. You are lucky you didn’t end up in the East River!" He redirected Jerry, now cold and somewhat frozen, in the right direction and Jerry finally arrived at Stack’s.

As the auctioneer for that evening, I held the sale back till 7 pm to allow the late arrivals to take off their snow-covered clothing, have some coffee and get comfortable.

Virtually from the first lot offered the bidding was fast and furious. All wanted to get what they came for, at the same time hoping the session would end early so they could get back to their hotel rooms or homes as soon as possible.

In the next part of this story I will relate some of the great numismatic items that drew people to the sale, despite the weather.


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