Stack’s A Numismatic Saga, Part 5


Harvey Stack continues his reminiscences and the story of Stack’s, with numismatic traditions dating back to 1858, in its present form founded in New York City in 1933. Stack’s held its first public auction sale in 1935. Today, Stack’s Bowers Galleries is the longest established and most accomplished rare coin firm in America.

The ANA and the ANS

Organizations serving New York area collectors in 1933 included the American Numismatic Association (ANA), then headed by President Alden Scott Boyer of Chicago. He was a folksy sort, and once commented, “I served as ANA president. Oh yes I did. It was a wonderful experience. Oh yes it was.”

ANA’s monthly journal The Numismatist was the only nationwide publication in the field and was then enjoying a sprightly appeal under long-time editor Frank Duffield. The publication had many of the same problems confronting it today: many critics, far fewer providers of original manuscripts, and endless sniping about the types of articles actually run (notably D.C. Wismer’s ongoing series, year after year, on obsolete bank notes).

Near the northern tip of Manhattan was the 75-year-old American Numismatic Society (ANS), long recognized as the Acropolis of scholarly research in the United States. In his annual address of January 14, 1933, the redoubtable scholar-president Edward T. Newell addressed the Depression noting, ‘The general state of affairs prevailing in 1932 has, needless to say, caused the activities of the ANS to be curtailed to a certain extent in the year just past. But you will note the silver lining to our cloud in the corresponding brevity of my annual report. Whatever may be our personal reactions to 1932 of evil memory… the solid foundations of our institution and its reputation have not been harmed in the slightest!’ More was yet to come, such as the Bank Holiday declared by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on March 6, 1933, two days after his inauguration.

Coin Clubs

The premier collectors’ organization on the city was the New York Numismatic Club (NYNC), approaching its 25th anniversary and headed in 1933 by the well-known curator and cataloger Howland Wood. NYNC was already well established with a carefully selected membership and strict policy of barring all commercialism from its meetings. The Bronx Coin Club was established in this year by Otto T. Sghia, while the existing Brooklyn Coin Club was led by President Morris M. Klaif.

Soon to serve as the Brooklyn club’s president was a midwestern student at Brooklyn Polytechnic, Lewis M. Reagan, who in a few years would emerge as the American Numismatic Association’s executive director. Looking over the club reports in The Numismatist reveals that all of these groups had a frequently overlapping membership; many were customers at Stack’s. Our store also served as a coin club in a way. Collectors, dealers, and scholars from all over the city, indeed all over the country and, sometimes from distant parts of the world, were always on hand. Camaraderie was the order of the day, and all had a good time exchanging ideas.

News and Novelties from Here and There

American numismatics was enriched in 1932-1933 by many Depression-related items, including the emergency scrip issued by cities and businesses, such as the circulating wooden money pioneered by Tenino, Washington. Chicago launched its Century of Progress Exposition, which generated a host of commemorative medals and tokens, including the State of Colorado medals in silver dollar size urging buyers to ‘Restore Prosperity with Silver.’

The editor of Collier’s made headlines by commissioning a satirical medal by graphic artist George DeZayas to honor the ‘Unknown Hero’ who slugged Louisiana Senator Huey Long in the men’s room of a private club in Sands Point, New York on August 26, 1933. Shaped like a toilet seat, the medal showed a fist striking a crowned fish (‘Kingfish’ being the demagogic Long’s favorite title) with an impressive Latin and English inscription by a professor at Columbia University. When the ‘Unknown Hero’ failed to appear and claim the medal, the gold original was presented with great publicity to the ANS.

An amusing suggestion for collecting in the depths of the Depression was offered by ANA Second Vice President Harvey L. Hansen. His idea recalls the 1933 joke about Chicken Shadow Soup, said to be prepared by the very poor by suspending a chicken over a pot of boiling water on the theory that boiling the chicken’s shadow brought the family at least that much closer to actual chicken. Hansen cut out pictures of coins he coveted from scores of journals and catalogues, mounted then on file cards and, Voila! had a “Collection” of hundreds of world “coins” to study!

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