Harvey G. Stack, the patriarch of the family firm that bills itself as the nation’s largest rare coin business, died on Jan. 3 in New York. He was 93.
His death was confirmed by his son, Larry.
Mr. Stack joined Stack’s Rare Coins as a teenager in 1947, 14 years after his father and uncle transformed what his great-grandfather had founded in 1858 as a foreign exchange house in Lower Manhattan into a dealership devoted exclusively to collectible currency.
Before formally retiring in 2009, Mr. Stack, with his wife, his cousins and his children, helped turn what is now known as Stack’s Bowers Galleries into an industry gold standard.
He developed a standardized grading system for appraising coins, and he expanded demand among hobbyists by urging Congress to approve the U.S. Mint’s enormously popular 50 State Quarters Program, which, beginning in 1999, honored each state with a commemorative coin in the order in which they ratified the Constitution or were admitted to the union.
During his 62 years as his company’s manager of business affairs, Mr. Stack was said to have personally conducted more auction sales than anyone else in the industry. He and his son were instrumental in selling the collection of the California numismatist John J. Ford Jr. and partnered with Sotheby’s in the record-breaking $7.6 million sale in 2002 of an extraordinarily rare 1933 Saint-Gaudens “Double Eagle” $20 gold coin.
He also steered several valuable assemblages to public institutions, including the pharmaceutical heir Josiah K. Lilly’s cache of 6,150 gold coins, which is now in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Collection.
The firm says it has sold at least one example of every U.S. coin ever made.
Harvey Gerald Stack was born on June 3, 1928, in Brooklyn to Morton M. and Muriel Stack, and raised in the Bronx and in Jamaica, Queens.
After graduating from high school, he attended New York University and, in 1947, started working full time at the dealership started in 1933 by his father and his uncle, Joseph, at 690 Sixth Avenue. His father was also an editor of Numismatic News.
“I had worked virtually every moment that I wasn’t in school,” he wrote in a history for the company.
The firm begun in the 19th century by his great-grandfather Maurice got into numismatics as a sideline, buying and selling collector coins and currency in addition to its primary function in foreign exchange. It later diversified into dealing in antiques and rare stamps.
In 1935, after converting the company to a rare coin dealership, Morton and Joseph Stack held their first public auction. In 1953, Stack’s moved to a gallery on 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan. (It is now on 38th Street and has galleries in other cities.)
In 2011, Stack’s merged with Bowers & Merena to create Stack’s Bowers Galleries.
Mr. Stack was the president of the Professional Numismatists Guild for two years beginning in 1989. In 1993 he was given the Founder’s Award, the guild’s highest honor.
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Harriet (Spellman) Stack; his daughter, Susan; two grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. He lived on Long Island.
The Stack’s gallery was considered an inviting global clubhouse by many coin dealers and collectors. But Mr. Stack was not shy about promoting the company’s financial success.
“There are people who sell gold and silver bullion, and rolls and bags of coins, who call themselves coin dealers, and some of them probably do upward of $100 million business a year,” he told The New York Times in 1984. “When you say ‘rare coin dealers,’ though, and speak of firms that sell both directly and at auction, we’re the largest coin dealer in the United States.”
He drew a distinction between coin collectors, whom he courted assiduously, and investors.
“If a collector and an investor had to abandon a sinking ship, the collector would take with him the rarest and most aesthetically appealing pieces without regard to market value,” he told The Times in 1977. “The investor would try to take as much of his coins as possible, starting with the most valuable.”
“Over the long haul,” he continued, “history shows that rare coins of good quality have outperformed the Dow Jones industrials, real estate and almost every other form of investment.”
But he counseled patience, and he said returns depended on two other factors: quality and rarity. What he looked for, he said, was coins that “are a little away from what a fellow can ordinarily find in his pocket or in mama’s shoe box.”
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