By Harvey Stack - Founder, Stack's Bowers ......
In the fall of 1958 we had our customary visit from Mr. Lilly and we showed him some of our recent acquisitions for his growing collection. He had been studying other collections and what made each of them important and desirable. He wanted us to tell him more about the Louis E. Eliasberg Collection, which the Stack family played an important role in building in the early 1940s when we were able to obtain the Clapp Collection for this important collector.
With Mr. Eliasberg, we negotiated to acquire an almost complete collection of United States gold, silver and copper, along with a wonderful group of foreign gold coins. The combination of what Mr. Eliasberg already owned and the Clapp Collection resulted in a very important, historic collection and the Stack family was pleased to be a supplier of new and upgrade coins--as well as helping to set aside the duplicates for future trading and possible sale. Louis E. Eliasberg was collecting at the right time and he was able to get a great start on his unparalleled cabinet.
Mr. Lilly commented about this: "I guess this does not happen often. It was fortunate for me that I was able to purchase the U.S. gold coin collections you found for me in 1954 and 1955.” We once again marveled at how far he was able to get with his collecting because of these advantageous acquisitions from the Anderson Dupont, Weihman and Schermerhorn collections.
“I guess I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.
He then noted that he still needed two U.S gold coins to complete the collection. One was the unique 1870-S $3 gold piece (which Louis Eliasberg owned). Mr. Lilly noted: “I guess I have to wait till he either sells his collection or until he passes on. Since we are close to the same age, I will try to wait." All this was said with a warm smile on Mr. Lilly's face.
He continued: “But I do have a chance on getting the 1822 half eagle. You told me there are only three examples: the one in the Smithsonian, the Eliasberg specimen, and the one in the Carter Family Collection, which is vast, but not as complete as the one you built for me!"
Mr. Lilly mentioned that members of the Stack family had approached Amon Carter, Jr. over the past four years but that he hadn't wanted to sell it. He asked us to keep trying, as he was excited to be just one coin away from a complete collection of U.S. gold.
He also encouraged us to continue adding to his Ancient and world gold collection, as well as his territorial series. He wanted to expand his Spanish American gold collection to see what he could get in the smaller denomination of this popular series. He was always stressing how important the Spanish American coinage was to the development of a universal currency to expedite world trade and the role it played in the economic development of the United States.
Mr. Lilly was always encouraging us to be watchful for other coins of the world for his growing collection and at Stack’s we worked hard to fulfill his desires. We continued to search, again contacting collectors and dealers in the United States as well as worldwide. We sent out letters, we made phone calls, and we attending many conventions, with the goal of filling the gaps that Mr. Lilly still had in his developing world-class collection.
As mentioned in a previous segment, Amon Carter would often come by the shop whenever he was in New York. On those visits or when we would encounter him at a show, he always greeted us, smoking his favorite cigar. Often he would start the conversation with, "Hi Guys, how are you doing? Don't ask, I know you want to buy my 1822 half eagle.” He promised that when he was ready to sell he would give us first refusal, remembering all the things the Stack family had done for him over the years. Amon Carter understood that our client was hoping to complete his collection and therefore needed an example of the 1822 half eagle. He noted that he shared the desire for completion and it had been a goal of his father before him. He told us that he also recognized our client’s need for privacy and admired our firm’s discretion in preserving that privacy and not letting on to him or to anyone else who this important collector was.
He told us: “My father was somewhat secretive as you know, and he rarely revealed that he was collecting coins. Privacy is important to maintain.” He mentioned that no one knew that he had even discussed the 1822 half eagle with us, and that was the way it should be. He thanked us, as always, for our friendship and numismatic guidance.
It wasn’t until the summer of 1960 that all of our attempts to acquire an 1822 half eagle for Mr. Lilly came to fruition. I will tell that story in a later part of this series.