The E-Sylum:  Volume 7, Number 3, January 18, 2004, Article 20


  Alan V. Weinberg writes: "Your story about the obsessive
  English bibliomaniac Richard Heber's desire for three of
  everything in rare books he sought: one for preservation/
  condition, one for personal use, one for his friends' use
  reminds me of a curious similar penchant on the part of
  our own Smithsonian's numismatic collection:

  In 1967 before Congressional sub-committee hearings, the
  two Indiana senators (Birch Bayh and another) sought to
  have a Congressional bill passed allowing the Josiah K. Lilly
  (CEO of Indiana's Lilly Pharmaceuticals and son of the founder
  Eli Lilly) family to donate the late Josiah's virtually complete
  American and foreign gold coin and ingot collection to the
  Smithsonian in exchange for a $5.5 million dollar estate tax
  credit - the modern day equivalent of perhaps $50 million
  dollars. Several prominent numismatic dealers and Vladimir
  Clain-Stefanelli, the Smithsonian's  numismatic curator,
  testified on behalf of this tax credit / essentially taxpayer
  purchase of the collection.

  I testified against the bill before the Sub-Committee as a
  large % of the collection was already represented in the S.I.
  collection and, in essence, the taxpayer was paying $5.5
  million for a bunch of expensive "duplicates" for approx.
  10% of the collection still actually needed.

  I was successful in delaying the bill for up to a year but the
  Senatorial sponsorship was just too strong, coupled with
  Clain-Stefanelli's expressed promise to Congress , under
  oath, to have the S.I. divest and sell off the duplication
  represented in the collection. Great!  That's what I'd sought.

  Decades passed and not a duplicate was released by the S.I.
  I read in the Dec '93 Maine Antique Digest that US Supreme
  Court Chief Justice Wm Rehnquist was head of a S. I.
  de-accessioning  and oversight committee and wrote him of
  the situation and the S.I.'s sworn promise to dispose of the
  numismatic duplicates. Weeks later in Feb 1994 I received
  a detailed 2 page single-spaced typed /signed letter from the
  Secretary of the Smithsonian Robt McC. Adams of whom
  Chief Justice  Rehnquist had inquired.  Adams' letter specifically
  (and absurdly) stated that "duplicate" in the normal sense of the
  word was not a "duplicate " to the S.I, according to his
  information from numismatic curator Clain- Stefanelli.

  That the S.I. required two specimens for obverse and reverse
  display [including such absurdities as two 1927-D St Gaudens
  $20's and two 1822 half eagles, both represented in the Lilly
  Coll'n and already in the S.I.. holdings] and a third for traveling
  displays to other organizations. And thus no "duplication" was
  created with the acquisition of the Lilly Coll'n !

  Today, we have absurdities like a shrinking numismatic public
  display at the S.I., dismissal of unneeded curatorial staff and a
  stripping off the walls and cases of any and all Lilly gold pioneer
  ingots as "questionable" (a not insignificant $ proportion of the
  $5.5 million collection acquisition) while not a single "duplicate"
  Lilly coin has ever been de-accessioned, despite curatorial
  promises to the contrary in 1967.

  It would appear that bibliomaniac Richard Heber's obsessive
  desire for three of every book was somehow contracted by
  the Smithsonian.

  In a follow-up note Alan added: "I still have and read this
  afternoon, before typing the piece, Sec'y McC.Adams' S.I.
  letterhead letter referring to Clain-Stefanelli, Rehnquist, et al.
  The letter does indeed re-define "duplicate" just as I indicated.
  Not Adams' understanding of "duplication" but he ascribes it
  to Clain-Stefanelli.

  I was attending George Washington University law school in
  DC at the time and thus had access to the hearings and indeed
  an invitation to testify, which I did.

  I recall Abe Kosoff testifying and Clain-Stefanelli but cannot
  specifically recall what other dealers were present although one
  would think one of the Stacks, at least, was there. Lilly bought
  much from and through them."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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