Great Collectors, Great Collections

Great Coin Collectors, Great Collections

Notable Numismatic Collectors

While it may have formerly been known as the “hobby of kings,” today it has become the “king of hobbies.” In fact, due to a groundswell of new collectors in the past ten years, the U.S. Mint recently estimated the number of coin collectors in America alone to now be upwards of 140 million. The rich and famous have always collected coins as part of their ancestry or for investment and pleasure in the joy of owning a rare coin that no one else has. The following are some of the more notable coin collectors and their rare coin collections.

Josiah Lilly – 1893-1966 (73 years old)

Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., a third generation chief executive of the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company, was a collector extraordinaire. He was one of a kind, with the money to fulfill his collecting desires. His love for gold coins, postage stamps, early editions of English and American literature, antique America guns, military history, and uniforms, surely qualified him as “Mr. Collector” of the mid-20th century.

At his death in 1967, his collection of world gold coins numbered 6,125 specimens. It comprised 1,227 U.S. gold coins, 1,236 Latin America coins, 3,002 European coins, and hundreds of ancient, African and Far East gold coins. It was truly a landmark collection as it contained many “finest known” and several unique specimens. There were no duplicates, as each of these coins were different. Lilly assembled his epic coin collection over a 17 year period.

The executors of the J.K. Lilly estate fully realized what a unique collection they had, and sought to maintain it intact. They realized that no amount of time, effort, or money could ever duplicate it. The Curators of the National Numismatic Collection lobbied to help obtain the “jewel of coin collections” for a permanent home in the National Numismatic Collection. In exchange for the donation, the Lilly family was granted a tax deduction of over $5.5 million, a sum unequalled at the time. Today, if the Lilly family kept the coin collection for themselves, they would have an asset valued at more than $400 million today… but some things are more important than money.

Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. – 1896-1976 (80 years old)

Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. was an American financier and numismatist from the mid-1920s until the late 1970s. Early on he set a goal to own every Federal issued U.S. coin. As a highly successful banking executive in Baltimore, he was fortunate in that many great rare coin collections came on the market in the 1940s. In 1942, the New York firm of Stack’s sold the entire John H. Clapp collection to Eliasberg for $100,000, which brought him close to achieving his goal to own every single U.S. coin issue. He was able to pick up remaining rarities from such collections as F.C.C. Boyd, and others. On November 7, 1950, Eliasberg was able to achieve his goal when he purchased the last US gold coin and silver dime missing in his collection.

Eliasberg had reached his collecting goal within a decade. He had completed a coin collection containing a specimen of every U.S. coin of every date, metal, denomination, and mint mark ever struck which were known as of that date. The Eliasberg collection did not distinguish between proofs and circulating strikes and die variations were not emphasized. No one had ever accomplished this coin collecting feat before, and probably no one will ever accomplish it again, making his the most comprehensive U.S. numismatic collection of all time.

Eliasberg was known as “The King of Collectors.” He loved sharing his collection with the numismatic community through various exhibitions, and he was even featured in an article in LIFE magazine on April 27, 1953. From 1950 until his death in 1976, he concentrated on keeping his collection current, adding a few better condition pieces consistently over time. After his death, he divided his collection between his two children, who auctioned the Eliasberg collection over three sales from 1982 to 1997, realizing around $50 million

John Jay Pittman – 1913-1996 (83 years old)

John Jay Pittman was an ordinary working guy, who made a fortune by collecting classic U.S. gold and silver coins over time. John Jay was the oldest of seven Pittman children, he learned early on the value of money, working since he was 7 years old, and he did whatever it took to survive. Early in life, after his grandmother gave him a handful of coins, he was bewitched by the lure of history, people, and far-off places. His hobby for coin collecting became a lifelong passion. He realized knowledge was the key to the future, reading and studying became a passion. He worked his way through school, and after graduation he went to work for Kodak as a Chemical Engineer, and moved to Rochester, N.Y. in 1936, only earning $15,000 a year.

Pittman, was of modest means, but through instinct, knowledge and sheer force of will, he assembled one of the most stunning collections of United States coinage ever. He proved that the most successful path to rare coin investing is to “Think like a collector” which he did, all on a very limited budget. Pittman focused on undervalued rare and esoteric coins, rather than trying to purchase major rarities. He avoided participating in high priced auctions, and played the waiting game to purchase the right coins at the right price. JJ Pittman learned how to double, triple, quadruple his profit over time with rare coins. He invested less than $75,000 to build his collection from the 1950s to the 70s. John Jay Pittman received an excellent return on investment during his lifetime, through the excitement and enjoyment of his coin collection, and after his death, his family enjoyed a health ROI on his rare coin investment.

After his death in 1996, his family took his collection to auction. The Pittman sale was one of the most exquisite coin collections in the history of the world, yielding an astonishing 30,000 percent return on investment! Because of his foresight, his family will never have to worry about money again. His $75K coin collection was auctioned off between 1997 to 1999 in three public auctions for over $30 million dollars! Friends and family watched in awe as coin connoisseurs spend record amounts. They shook their heads in disbelief, saying, “He was right all this time about those dang coins!”

U.S. Presidents

Many U.S. Presidents have had a passion for coins and collecting. From George Washington, who greatly desired that America have its own coinage and signed the Mint Act of 1792, to Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, who prepared plans for a national Mint, and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State at the time, did much of the initial groundwork to establish the United States Mint.

  • President Jefferson was a numismatist who built a diverse collection from around the world. He had an array of coins and money ranging from contemporary European issues to ancient coins.
  • President John Quincy Adams was one of our nation’s most prominent coin collectors in his era. His involvement was in general numismatic motivation, and had interests in the evolution of currency.
  • President Roosevelt, nicknamed FDR, collected coins, and has appeared on the dime since 1946. As a Polio victim, he led the efforts for the March of Dimes in the eradication of polio.

The sports world has many professionals who have the money to create great coin collections, like Basketball Star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Besides being a NBA Legend, Kareem is known for his passion for guns, gold and glory. He started collecting sport cards as a kid, and expanded his interests into rare gold coins. Even NBA Lakers Owner, Jerry Buss had been collecting coins since he was 10 years old. He said he doesn’t “invest” in coins, he “collects” them. He purchased extreme rarities like the 1913 Liberty “V” nickel, 1894-S Dime, and 1804 bust silver dollar. Hockey Star, Wayne Gretzky, the king of hockey, is himself is a member of the ‘king of hobbies‘. His interest stemmed from a financial standpoint rather than a cultural or historical curiosity. Baseball Star, Andre Dawson, a Hall of Fame inductee and world renowned baseball player, is also a serious coin collector. His collection, considered one of the finest, was recently auctioned off for a lucrative sum.