HARVEY STACK ON THE VALUE OF BOOKS
The E-Sylum (6/6/2010)
From the very first day I became a full-time Numismatist, some 62 years ago, (and this doesn't count the apprentice years while I was going to school,) I learned from my family seniors, Joseph Stack, my uncle and Morton Stack my father, that in order to know about Numismatics, one must use the many books available on the hobby.
In fact, when I became one of the senior members of the firm, my office, which I shared with Norman Stack, my cousin, for over 30 years, housed from ceiling to floor, on two sides, the most used library that Stack's had. (And these were only on United States coins!)
The balance of the library was housed in various offices of our cataloging staff, and on a huge wall at our second floor office. We were surrounded by books, catalogs and writings on this vast subject, which covered coins, of all metals and currency from all parts of the world, from ancient times to the modern issues.
We were trained to use the books, and ours were a true "working library", in order to catalog coins for sale and verify various pedigrees. The more we read , the more we learned. Our library was always available to those who sort the same information we did. Actually our offices were considered a "club house" as collectors and dealers visited and used the facilities we at STACK'S kept available. So my background was founded in study in order to keep up with the specialists and help the beginners.
Many of the great collectors, researchers, authors and dealers frequented Stack's to look at coins, study our inventory or just came to meet fellow numismatists for friendly as well as informative get-togethers ,and make use of our library for study and research .. (I will write more about the "club house atmosphere in a later story)
Back to the books. We scanned many price lists, ads and auctions to add to our library. If we had a very special assignment to help acquire and build a very complete series we always sort to get more books to help do our assignments.
Such an assignment came to us in 1954 from a very dedicated collector, Mr. Josiah K. Lilly, chairman of Eli Lilly & Co, He had a profound love of history, and started collecting in 1951 his great collection of Gold Coins of the World, and with a strong specialty in the coins of the United States.
Before he died in 1967 he assembled some 6500 Gold coins, from ancient to modern times, with special interest in Spanish Colonial, England , France and the United States. His interest started with the foreign issues, as he had a love of the history of the sea, and how the growth of America, as it grew. It was fascinating to serve him as he always wanted to know how and why certain issues occurred, the story the coins told and the interest that aroused collecting.
One of great interests was PIONEER and TERRITORIAL ISSUES. Not only did he attempt to have as complete collection as possible of these numismatic items. but he wanted to know also about the history of the West, the commercial and development of this wild and exciting place, which later became part of the United States,
In our search for rare and unusual coins, ingots, nuggets and other related artifact of the Early Western Period we not only wanted to get the monetary items but any books that would mention the miners, assayers , coiners, bankers and the like which were active during this hectic period.
In early 1955 we were sent an very unusual item. It was either a piece of money or a gambling chip. The value was $20.00 , and it was struck in gold. The legend that appeared on it was DIANA GAMES OF CHANCE TWENTY DOLLARS CLAY AND MONTGOMERY STREET SAN FRANCISCO 1854. It was the first item of this kind we ever saw.
We first searched all the text books and business directories of San Francisco and couldn't find DIANA mentioned. It was well struck, the proper weight and looked like a $20.00 gold piece, to be used in the gambling casinos. We decided to have researchers in San Francisco go over all the records of the period, and not only search in the San Francisco references but also try to research the records that might be in Sacramento. After months of searching we were unable to uncover any specific records.
As I wrote earlier, we were always searching for books and references, and one day a book arrived, which was a narrative, no doubt taken from a diary, published in 1855. I sat down to read it to get more local color and information to send on to Mr. Lilly. The book was entitled 'LAND OF GOLD', written by HINTON R. HELPER and published for the author by Henry Taylor, Baltimore 1855.
It covered the journey of Mr. Helper to explore California the previous three years (1852-l854).spoke of the Life Style, industry, morals, agriculture, mining and panning for gold as he experienced it first hand, He began his writings after he arrived in San Francisco and was astounded by what he witnessed about him. It was a revealing narrative and quite explicit about the life and death struggles for the new country being developed. He writes as he was walking through the streets of lower class and then upper class residents he discovered the way of life that attracted winners and losers. It was the "gambling Casinos." In order to describe graphically what he saw he wrote about DIANA, GAMES OF CHANCE. Following is a direct quote from his narrative.--
"The gambling-houses cannot be overlooked in a true sketch of life in San Francisco. One of the largest and most frequented of these, called the Diana, stands a few doors above us. The building extends, through the entire block from Clay to Commercial Street and has a front proportionate to its depth. The doors, which lead into it from either street, are kept wide open from nine in the morning till twelve a night is generally filled to overflowing with lazy men, of little principle, whose chief employment consists in devising some sinister plans of procuring a livelihood without working.-------"
He goes on to describe the block-long bar surrounded by pictures representing nude women in every imaginable posture.
Around the floors were numerous gambling tables, rented by the owners to those who needed a table to ply their trade. Chips consisted of tokens, gold coins, bags of dust, ingots, nuggets and the like. The readily found gold was the goal of the various players. The book continues with other life styles he encountered, from the City Life to the tent and camping sites he ventured to get a full picture of Life in the Golden State, including the unfortunates as well as those who might have "struck it rich"
WOW ! EUREKA ! Here, in this small volume, measuring 5 x 7 inches, of some 300 pages was the key we sought to confirm that this was a struck coin (or CHIP if you wish) that we were unable to find a source for what we had sent to us sometime before. We contacted various researchers in California, who said that probably the reason we had such a time locating this Company was because San Francisco as well as Sacramento had numerous fires in the early 1850s and must records such as street maps and places which were originally standing, were destroyed by fire and records no longer existed. One researcher in Sacramento did find some reference to the proprietors of Diana in a law suit filed in the mid 1850's after Mr Holder returned to the East to have his book published.
This book, which was written and published in 1855 was the major key to our being able to send it on to Mr. J.K. Lilly. It, together with the vast collection of some 6500 coins, resides in the National Collection at the Smithsonian, in Washington, D.C. The Lilly Collection became part of the NATIONAL COLLECTION IN 1967 after Mr. Lilly passed away, by an ACT OF CONGRESS.
YES, INDEED. Coins have value but books can make them real and sometimes tell stories that amaze us. Numismatics is a great study for determining places and things !!
Twenty dollars, n.d. Diana Gambling House (?), San Francisco. Gold. 34 mm. This piece is likely to be a modern fantasy from the mid-twentieth century. Fantasy pieces can take advantage of an intense enthusiasm for material related to the old West, the California Gold Rush, and the pioneer spirit in search of the American Dream.
Measurements: Overall: Dia. 33.4 mm, Wt. 33.351 g.
Place Made: United States, California
Credit Line: Lilly, Josiah K
Object ID: NU*283645.1074
Subject(s): Coins, Currency and Medals
To read the original online collection record, see United States, $20 (California--private issue) (americanhistory.si.edu/collections/object.cfm?key=35&objkey=4473)