US Coins

Harvey Stack has a lifetime of experience serving collectors

This is the latest installment in a series of articles delving into the careers of professional numismatists who have traveled the coin show circuit for more than four decades. In this installment, we take a glimpse at the decades-long career of Harvey Stack.

Currently a senior numismatic consultant for Stack’s Bowers Galleries, Harvey Stack has been at the forefront of numismatics for well over 60 years.

Stack has been surrounded by the hobby since birth, with the Stack’s Rare Coin Shop that Harvey’s father, Morton Stack, and uncle, Joseph Stack, established in 1933. Harvey joined the family business in 1947, two years after cousins Norman and Benjamin Stack also joined.

Harvey’s son, Lawrence, joined the firm in 1973, and daughter, Susan, three years later.

Harvey Stack and his cousins continued the numismatic tradition established by their respective fathers.

Stack’s, over the decades before, during and after Harvey’s association, has handled the sale of many numismatic rarities and collections of prominent collectors whose holdings the firm assisted in acquiring.

Some numismatic luminaries whose collections have passed through the halls of Stack’s —during acquisition of coins for the collections and, later, their auction under the Stack’s family name — include William H. Sheldon, David Proskey, James A. Stack Jr. (no relation to the owners of the numismatic firm), Col. James W. Flanagan, J.F. Bell, Anderson Dupont, C.A. Cass. George O. Walton, Reed Hawn, Louis E. Eliasberg Sr., George Clapp, Jimmy Hayes, Josiah K. Lilly and Amon Carter Jr., among many others.

Harvey Stack became a member of the American Numismatic Association in 1947. He credits his numismatic education to some of the most learned numismatists of the period that worked at Stack’s. These included Hans M.F. Schulman, John J. Ford Jr., and Vladimir Clain-Stefanelli and his wife, Elvira. The latter two eventually became co-curators of the National Numismatic Collection in the Smithsonian Institution.

Although Stack’s has conducted business from several storefronts in New York City since its establishment, the current 123 W. 57th St. location, where it has been since 1953, remains the most familiar to longtime collectors.

Each location has had sit-down showcases, to allow collectors to relax while pursuing their hobby.

Harvey Stack obtained his auctioneer’s license in 1955, the same year he became a full partner in Stack’s.

Stack observed changes in the marketplace, noting that as the interest in collecting coins increased and old-time collections became available in the market, dealers who couldn’t acquire the rarities began hawking Proof sets and rolls of coins.

In 1967, Lilly, whom Harvey and his cousins had helped to assemble a collection of 6,150 gold coins of the world over a period of years, died. Unlike many of the collections the Stack family helped collectors build over the decades, the Lilly Collection did not go to the auction block after the owner’s death. Instead, it became the property of America’s citizens, after the Smithsonian approached Congress and secured passage of legislation that gave a tax break to the Lilly estate and brought the Lilly Collection into the National Numismatic Collection.

In the Mas1970s, Harvey and his cousin Norman inventoried the numismatic collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society that had been formed by Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Stack’s sold the collection for the society in a series of sales from which proceeds were used to curate and preserve historical documents from both Adamses.

Harvey Stack testified before a congressional subcommittee in 1972 leading up to the passage the following year of the original Hobby Protection Act (which has been updated since). Stack testified again nearly 25 years later while promoting and endorsing legislation that would authorize the 50 States Quarters Program.

In addition, Stack has testified on what he characterized as the abuses of the U.S. Mint’s flooding the numismatic market with products that Stack contends have little or no secondary market value. His concern is that as it becomes more costly for collectors to acquire one of everything offered, more collectors will give up the hobby, Stack said.

Stack remains opposed to the Mint’s continuous issuance of special coinage, stating, “In most cases they strike far in excess of demand, have no buy-back policy to maintain a market, have so many ways they sell new issues as to confuse the market by their reckless marketing, and huge profits.”

The Stack family has also been numismatically philanthropic.

Harvey and Lawrence Stack donated in 1994 two Proof 1879 Quintuple Stellas, one in gold and one in copper-gilt, to the National Numismatic Collection. In 1992, the Stacks donated extensive correspondence from Charles E. Barber, Mint engraver, from the period 1880 to 1917. Among the Stacks’ other contributions was a 1792 Birch cent in 1993.

Harvey Stack has handled the sale of countless numismatic rarities both privately and at auction, including 1804 Draped Bust dollars and 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent coins.

He negotiated the joint sale with Bowers and Merena in 1996 and 1997 of Eliasberg’s silver coin collection.

He was also involved in representing the family firm in the July 30, 2002, sale held jointly by Sotheby’s and Stack’s of the only 1933 Saint-Gaudens $20 gold double eagle declared by the federal government as legal to own. The coin sold for $7.59 million.

Having assisted in several of the collection’s acquisitions, the company counts as one of its crowning achievements the sale of the collection amassed by John J. Ford Jr., who died in 2002. Stack’s offered the first of 24 auctions of Ford numismatic material in 2004, and finished selling the collection in 2013. The last several Ford auctions were conducted under the Stack’s Bowers Galleries banner. Cumulative gross sales neared $70 million.

Harvey Stack has been a member of the Professional Numismatists Guild since 1978 and served on its board for nearly a decade, including a two-year term beginning in 1989 as president.

Stack received in 1993 the PNG’s highest award, the PNG Founder’s Award, for his dedication to the hobby. The ANA Numismatist of the Year award followed in 1997 and he was named to the ANA Numismatic Hall of Fame in 2002.

Harvey Stack writes weekly on the Stack’s Bowers website about his adventures and experiences during nearly seven decades as a professional numismatist. 

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