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Stack’s A Numismatic Saga, Part 2

THE NEW YORK NUMISMATIC SCENE IN THE THIRTIES

Harvey Stack continues his reminiscences and the story of Stack’s 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.

Around Town

The numismatic scene in New York City in the 1930s was less lively than it had been in the earlier part of the century, 1900 to 1920. That had been an era of ‘big buyers’ and grand auction sales, one of growth and excitement. Now, the Depression was upon us all, and although there was a lot of numismatic enthusiasm, and the Stack brothers (my father Morton and my uncle Joseph B.) did well, a great deal of effort was required to succeed in the trade.

Already well-established in town was Wayte Raymond, operator of the coin department of the venerable Scott Stamp and Coin Company. Beginning in 1932, he conducted auction sales with James G. Macallister under the J.C. Morgenthau banner. Raymond is remembered today for his outstanding pioneer role in numismatic publishing. His many titles included The Standard Catalogue of United States Coins, the first independent, well-researched and halftone-illustrated catalogue and pricing guide, that made its appearance just as the Stack’s went into business. Opening the field of world coins to Americans for the first time in a popular format in 1938 and 1945 were Raymond’s Coins of the World of the Twentieth Century and Coins of the World of the Nineteenth Century.

These titles and other Raymond publications revolutionized the way in which Americans collected their own country’s coins and introduced many to the larger world. Another prominent dealer then active in the city was Rud. Kohler of Fifth Avenue, who served as American Numismatic Association (ANA) district secretary. Kohler made a different kind of headline, one entirely unwanted, in November 1933, when gunmen invaded his premises and made off with some $5,000 in rare coins.

Other Auctions in the City

Conducting auctions from his 8-10 West 37th Street offices was veteran dealer Thomas L. Elder, a New York and national numismatic leader since he set up business in the city in 1904. Elder was as prolific an issuer of auction catalogues as he was of medals and metallic business cards. An irascible and outspoken personality, he was renowned for his verbal interchanges with other dealers, ANA leader Farran Zerbe, and even auction bidders in his own sales. He had no problem calling out that a bidder the saleroom was a ‘deadbeat’ if he had a long-unpaid bill.

Elder would try to sell his business during 1933 but failed to attract a buyer. A few years later he would relocate to Pleasantville in suburban Westchester County. Ever original, Elder advertised ‘Super- Vegetables, We Sell the Seed’ in the April 1933 issue of The Numismatist, journal of the ANA, along with a notice of ‘A Fine Bungalow in the Blue Mountains at Tryon, N.C.’ which was presumably his own. The Depression was biting in for everyone.

Still at work in the city, though hard hit by the events of 1929, was Julius Guttag of Guttag Brothers, whose pioneer efforts in cataloguing Latin American coins and Hard Times tokens were a lasting legacy for future collectors. Across the city were dealers in antiques and foreign exchange who would provide material for up-and-coming younger men just making their mark in coin dealing, such as Abe Kosoff and a few years later, John J. Ford Jr.

Elsewhere

Conducting numismatic auctions outside New York City could be found the famous paper money dealer Barney Bluestone of Syracuse, N.Y.; Arline French in Garden City, N.Y.; Norman Schultz of Salt Lake City and Charles H. Fisher of Cleveland, Ohio, conducted events large and small.

No longer active in auctions but a continuing advertiser in The Numismatist was the aged Henry Chapman of Philadelphia, whose advertisements included the proud assertion, ‘I am ANA member 28.’ In Orangeville, Illinois could be found the well-established M.H. Bolender, who when not conducting mail-bid sales was a schoolteacher, and in Philadelphia was William Rabin.

In full cry in Fort Worth, Texas was the irrepressible B. Max Mehl, proprietor of the ‘Largest Numismatic Establishment in America, Established 30 Years, Capital $250,000.00.’ Mehl had begun his career in numismatics in Texas in 1900, was advertising nationally by 1904, and a few years later decided that New York City was the place to be. He met with Wayte Raymond to form a partnership, but that didn’t happen, and Mehl returned to Fort Worth, where he spent the rest of his life (he passed away in 1957). Historians know that in the early 1930s Mehl had his own radio program. He was further known across America for his endless ads in magazines, Sunday supplements and matchbook covers offering to pay $50 for any 1913 Liberty Head nickel.

Mehl knew quite well that all 1913 nickels of this type were accounted for, but the ads also sold thousands of copies of his Star Rare Coin Encyclopedia at one dollar each, bringing in more profit in some years than all of his auction sales. Mehl was the only coin dealer to display the National Recovery Administration’s ‘Blue Eagle’ in his ads.

Active in retail and mail-order sales across America were such dealers as Ambrose J. Brown of Marblehead, Massachusetts; L.W. Hoffecker of El Paso, Texas; and E.D. Windau of Cleveland. David C. Wismer was offering a vast array of U.S. paper money from his office in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, along with his interminable articles on obsolete currency in The Numismatist. The now aged John Zug of Bowie, Maryland, was famous for his leading position in U.S. gold coins but also offered a wide selection of early silver dollars, half dollars and minor coins.

Charles E. Green of Chicago was another leading dealer and was identified with a privately published guide, his Mint Record and Type-Table, United States Coins. This handy volume became the chief guide for Baltimore’s Louis E. Eliasberg, whose tenaciously held definition of a ‘complete’ collection meant complete according to the catalogue of C.E. Green.

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