The upcoming Kolbe & Fanning auction catalog for Part II of the Stack Family Library includes some great essays. David Fanning kindly forwarded me the text so I could share a few excerpts here. Be sure to get the catalog and read the rest (sorry - the scanned image of the catalog cover is very dark).
I can't believe it's gone. The books have been emptied off the shelves, and the Stack family has left the building. It's impossible to believe.
I was born and raised in Manhattan, which means, if you are of a certain age (and I am), and had an interest in coins, you knew of Stack's: pure and simple. If you asked a cabby to take you to Stack's by name, he would.
My mom took me to Stack's when I was a kid, only once, and all I remember was the wonderfully warm, clubby atmosphere, and the books. While I looked round goggle-eyed my mom quietly bought a coin from Norman Stack, which was given to me on my next birthday. I still have it.
And I still remember those books. I come from a family of readers and I count books among my best of friends. My father bought me my first ancient coin only after he made me buy a book to explain what I was looking at—it changed my life. Coins may be a portal to the past, but books are the keys to open that door.
It was not until 1973 that I really got to know Stack's and the family. They were, I was told, the evil empire. I was the new coin department at Sotheby's and was expected to get property, have sales, and to be competitive. Talk about a tough row to hoe!
One of the first things I did, aged 21, and in over my head, was head on down to 57th street, and introduce myself. I was ushered into the back room, where Norman Stack chatted with me (I have no idea where Harvey was). He was courtly, to the point, probed me as to what I was about, and what I knew…all the while sizing me up as a potential competitor (and clearly he lost no sleep that night).
I sat in that sanctum sanctorum listening attentively to Norman, all the while covetously eyeing the books that sat comfortably in their domain behind those glazed doors. I was utterly stunned when he said to me, as I was about to leave, that if I ever needed to avail myself of their library to check something, I need but ask. These were my enemies?
From John L. Sanderson:
After the collecting bug hit me full force, I started dealing to the trade. In other words I was a wholesale only dealer, but I specialized in the more esoteric end of the U. S. market to the exclusion of post-1792 coinage, and post-1865 paper money. It seemed to me that there was a gap that I could fill in the dealing community if I only had something special to offer.
Being only in my 20s, I knew it wasn't going to be my decades of experience, so I had to come up with something. I noticed that in my travels from show to show, and shop to shop up and down the eastern seaboard that many dealers had the “esoteric” material in their shops and booths, and did not know what it was, much less its relative value.
I also found that many of the same dealers would sell their books to any reasonable bid for quick cash. Here, as I finally managed to fire off a neuron or two, would be my niche. I would read numismatic books. Not just thumb through them. I would read them cover to cover.
As I got into it I realized that the dullest, most mind-numbing book was often best because I was picking up what the average full-time dealer did not have the time nor inclination to do, which was to actually read numismatic books. It didn't take long for me to be able to hold my own in the thin market of “out of the way” numismatics.