Stack’s planned in 2001 to have an important public Auction sale in September, to be held on 12th and 13th September in New York. The coins were to be consigned by our close friend and collector, and important teacher, Cornelius Vermeule, who was the numismatic director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Massachusetts Historical Society, who collected and taught Greek and Roman history, and also had a great interest in the coinage of the Far East. His collection was one of the worthiest in the various fields he amassed.
Since the Stack family, all of us, were very close friends of “Bucky” (his nick-name given to him by his very close friends and colleagues), we felt it would be appropriate to offer his collection in our early fall sale. September was selected, as it would be close to the Summer ANA convention, and many of our overseas clients would still be traveling about the United States and would schedule to examine the collection, plan to attend and/or leave bids. The dates of the sale were to be after Labor Day that year, and we selected the sale dates of 12th and 13th September 2001. A super illustrated catalog was prepared and we planned a long pre-sale exhibition time to gather the best audience we could.
The Stack family in 2001 all lived on Long Island, about 40 minutes from our offices. Those members of the family included myself (Harvey), Larry, my son, my wife, Harriet, and my daughter Susan. We all drove together in one car, carrying with us our personal luggage for several nights stay, had hotel rooms reserved for our staff, and left early in the morning to be ready to serve the viewers and dealers who came to New York before the sale and planned to view the lots on 11th and 12th September. Others arrived before and our pre-sale viewing audience was immense.
We traveled through the borough of Queens on our way to the bridge crossing the Harlem river, to Manhattan, then to the Westside Drive along the Hudson to downtown New York. As we began crossing the bridge, a flash came over the radio, that a plane struck one of the twin trade towers, and people were trying to leave the building. Thousands were therein employed and many died in the fire and collapse. Shortly thereafter the second tower was announced as also hit by another passenger plane, again engulfing the buildings in more fire and falling debris. The reports were horrifying. And the Stack family was still crossing the bridge to Manhattan and the Westside Drive, people were running out into the streets, not even knowing where they were going. All were bewildered and kept looking up to see if more aircraft might be coming their way. Once on 155th Street we passed the courtyard where the American Numismatic Society had its museum and library for many decades. We then turned south on Broadway for some blocks.
We were able to turn east on 86th Street and then when we reached Broadway we were directed south again as the full length of Central Park would block us from proceeding east. We continued down Broadway, past Lincoln Center in the 60’s and on to Broadway again and found ourselves within a few blocks of 56th Street where we had a reserved place for our car in a garage located between 7th Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas (the old 6th Avenue) and pulled into our garage. Taking our bags with us, we went next door to the Parker Meridian Hotel which had entrances on both 56th Street and 57th Street, directly across the street from our offices at 123 West 57th Street. It was a joy to see, the window gates were still down, no signs of vandalism, our armed guard standing before the entrance. We at least made it to our “home away from home”!!!
We went through the lobby of the Hotel Salisbury (our landlord). I opened the shop at its side door in the hotel lobby, went to give the alarm response (but it wasn’t working), turn on the lights, only some were functioning and realizing the air conditioner won’t function without full power. We listened further to the radio (battery operated), and learned of a third plane that hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania. Nobody knew if more were coming, where they came from and what was the immense damage and personal loss at the Trade Center. But we and a few of our staff who made it by subway or bus service made it to the shop.
Larry and I reviewed the entire situation as it occurred, and realized that those traveling by plane or train, or driving in cars, would have difficulty in making it to New York to look at the lots or attend the sale.
What to do? We decided to cancel the sale!!! Most businesses in New York did likewise, and so the city was no doubt still a target and those coming or there already would not be safe. We decided we could re-issue the catalog, and run the Cornelius Vermeule sale in November, if all that occurred a day before the sale calms down.
When the phones rang, we announced sale canceled!!! When those in the city walked by, we had to announce sale canceled. The internet was given the same announcement. With the over 700 sales that Stack’s catalogued and conducted from 1935 to 2001, this would be the very first one we ever had to cancel. It was surely the right thing to do.
Note: A similar situation in 1963
For the numismatic record the day that John Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas in 1963, we had a similar decision to make. Would it be unpatriotic to have a sale on this tragic day??? Not having the answer, one of our great cataloguers, James C. Risk, who served in the Navy during World War II and who later was a diplomat to England, called on our behalf a close friend at our State Department to ask if this was unpatriotic. The answer came back that since the event was scheduled prior to the date of the assassination, and people had traveled or were already in attendance for that evening’s sale, they recommend that the leader of the event (the auctioneer in this case) before the sale starts ask the audience to stand in silence, offer a prayer, and remain calm and thoughtful for about two minutes) and then let the auction proceed. I, Harvey G. Stack, was the auctioneer of record for that sale. I made the appropriate announcement, had all stand in silence for over two minutes. And then started to offer the first lot for sale. It was such an emotional moment for me and those who participated in the sale, that I stuttered calling the first lot, which sold very slowly and eventually went to a floor bidder. The next four or five lots I sold, I also was stuttering, but got the lots sold. Once the emotional wave left me, I successfully conducted the balance of the lots to be offered that evening. As a professional auctioneer these first lots were the hardest I ever sold, but I am certain you can understand the emotion I felt that evening.
The Evening of 9/11
Now back to the evening of 9/11. To get food was the next chore. Most restaurants had closed, some even boarded up (expecting looting), and with power failures occurring sporadically, phone service disrupted, and delivery services stopped cold, all went for the best survival they could do and also try to get home. We fortunately had a very good Greek restaurant on our street and all got something to eat, in small groups, and tried to get into our hotel rooms. Another difficult job. If you were on a lower floor you could walk up – if not, our Hotel Salisbury got their staff to bring a few cots into our offices even though the air conditioning was faulty so we each took turns walking out our side door to get fresh air in the street – it was a hot and humid night but we endured.
The Day After
We could not leave the shop for our alarm system wasn’t working, and if someone broke in it could have been a disaster . On 12th September 2001 things started functioning again, the radio kept us up to date about the collapse at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon hit and the Pennsylvania crash. The news was terrible. During our stay at the office, we had our own Holmes armed guard watching that no one tried to break in, the alarm company made some temporary connections to our holdup system, but the electricity was still in an “on & off” state, the telephones and the lights the same, and most of our electronic equipment still not functioning. We were there but virtually in a “stand and wait for further assistance” mode!!!
A few restaurants had power re-opened and we could get some breakfast, and a few sandwiches for lunch. On the day after the attack, we learned that one of our favorite steak houses a few blocks from our offices was opened, so I took the few girls that were still with us, my family and went to the famous Ben Benson’s to try to get a good meal after our recent ordeal. Their refrigeration seemed to function so most of us had a sea food cocktail, a steak or lamb chops but no bread. Because of the attack, no real food deliveries came into Manhattan. Because of bomb threats no trucks could make it. So we all had crackers and were thankful for them!!!
13th September 2001
On 13th September, two days after the attack, our electricity went full power, our phones functioned, the air conditioning worked (this was still very hot and humid summer weather for New York but, however, the city seemed to get back to some order). Police patrol cars, EMS vehicles and fire apparatus continued to patrol the streets at close intervals to each other. Stack’s survived the crisis, our clients all thanked us for canceling the sale. Fortunately shortly thereafter our offices were back in full gear. The whole affair still gives me chills and hoping we do not ever have to endure a period like 9/11.
For further information about Stack’s Bowers, visit their website.
In our Who’s who you can read more about Harvey G. Stack.
Last year Stack’s Bowers opened another gallery in New York city.