The Tradition of Handling The Greatest of The Great Collections

Welcome to my weekly comments. As I contemplate what to write about I cannot help but think of our tradition of handling the greatest of the great collections in the past. While inexpensive Morgan dollars, scarce Lincoln cents, interesting tokens, modern Mint issues and the like make up a large part of the numismatic hobby, it is the great rarities and landmark collections that attract the most attention and linger longest in one’s mind.

Stack’s was formed in New York City in 1933 by brothers Joseph and Morton Stack. In 1935 they conducted their first auction, while moving forward in other activities as well, such as being the official distributor for certain commemorative half dollars (beginning with the 1936 Arkansas-Robinson issue) and making their New York City store a magnet, indeed a social center, for collectors and dealers to gather. Today in 2012 the store-gallery at 123 West 57th Street is still a magnet. When collectors, dealers, and researchers visit New York City from all parts of the world, stopping by at Stack’s is often first on their lists. Or, perhaps visiting the American Numismatic Society is first, and we are second.

My own numismatic career dates back to 1952 when I began collecting, and then dealing in a small way in 1953, this being nearly 60 years ago. My first auction was conducted in 1957, eventually evolving into Bowers and Merena Galleries. American Numismatic Rarities, founded by Christine Karstedt in 2003 and merged with Stack’s in 2006, must be mentioned as well. Today, these entities are all part of Stack’s Bowers Galleries.

What a tradition there is to behold. In terms of great collections presented at auction, the largest two were the Eliasberg Collection of United States and other coins and the John J Ford, Jr. Collection, both of which challenged the $60 million mark. After that comes the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Collection, not far behind. The Garrett Collection, sold for The Johns Hopkins University, appraised at $8.9 million dollars but sold for us for $25 million at auction comes to mind, as does the collection of Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb. These cabinets constitute the greatest of the great, plus one other, the John Jay Pittman Collection, cataloged by our former colleague and friend, the late David W. Akers. That’s it. All other great collections are of lesser value.

What about rarities? We take the lead in that area as well, with the most expensive coin ever sold at auction, the 1933 double eagle (in cooperation with Sotheby’s) at $7.59 million, setting the record. And, it seems like only yesterday that I was the auctioneer for the Child’s specimen of the 1804 silver dollar, which crossed the block at $4.14 million, still the world’s record for a silver coin. We have handled more 1913 Liberty Head nickels, 1804 silver dollars, 1822 half eagles, and other great rarities than have all other current auction houses combined.
Records continue to be made as other collections and rarities are handled by us, as old collections are sold and new ones are formed. It seems to be a truism that a great collection owned by an individual, museum, university, or estate, if placed with us, is handled with great care and the results break records left and right.

As I am now working with our staff in helping catalog coins for our forthcoming auction at the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo in Baltimore in November I am delighted with what will surely be a great event. There will be no 1913 Liberty Head nickel, 1804 dollar, or 1822 half eagle, but choice, rare, and interesting coins, tokens, medals, and paper money will abound. If you are thinking of selling – even if you do not have major rarities – Stack’s Bowers Galleries is ready to help. While we have handled the vast majority of the rarest of the rare, the main part of our business has been composed of tens of thousands of consignments ranging in value from a few thousand dollars up to in the hundreds of thousands or low millions. Whatever you may have to offer, if it is of significance and value, you have come to the right place.

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