The Story of Louis Eliasberg
Louis E. Eliasberg is the only man in modern history to assemble a complete collection of circulating United States coins by date and mintmark. One might think that such an amazing feat would only be possible by a man born into extreme wealth. However, for Louis Eliasberg, this is not the case at all.
Eliasberg was born in Selma, Alabama in 1896 to a family of average means. Eliasberg became head of the household while still in his teens. His father had instilled the young Eliasberg with a solid work ethic. Louis managed to scrimp and save in good ole’ American fashion.
Buying Gold When Gold Ownership Was Illegal
President Roosevelt’s gold proclamation on March 4, 1933 made private ownership of gold illegal. This proclamation excluded rare and unusual gold coins that had a special value to collectors. Therefore Louis, who understood the importance of gold ownership, taught himself the art of coin collecting. “I realized the only way I could legally acquire gold was by becoming a numismatist. So, in 1934, to the extent of my means, I started buying gold coins. I maintained a small book in which I recorded the cost of gold coins I had purchased; the various dates, denominations, and mintmarks,” Eliasberg explained in an address entitled “Why, When, and How I Assembled the Most Complete Collection of United States Coins”.
Realizing What Is Possible
Eliasberg was not one to do anything half-heartedly and so immersed himself into the hobby of coin collecting. Over the course of the next seven years, Eliasberg began buying coins, mainly gold, that he did not already have in his collection. In 1942, after eight years of collecting, Eliasberg purchased the John H. Clapp coin collection. This acquisition filled in many of the missing gaps in Eliasberg’s collection. It was then that he realized that the “Holy Grail” of coin collecting, a complete set of American coins, was possible.
After fifteen years of collecting gold coins, Eliasberg purchased the only one missing from his collection, an 1841 $2.5 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle. A year later, Eliasberg was able to acquire his final silver piece, the 1873-CC Liberty Seated dime “without arrows”. These purchases concluded his acquisition of the complete collection of American coins, including all known dates and mintmarks. Many thought this was an impossible accomplishment because many of the key coins existed only in single-digit populations.
The “King of Coins”
After assembling the greatest collection of American coins ever, Eliasberg became known as the “King of Coins.” His exquisite collection was featured in Life Magazine in 1976, and displayed at the Philadelphia Mint for its last public appearance.
In 1982, six years after his death, the first of three auctions began the breakup of this incredible collection.The first record-breaking auction accumulated $12.4 million. The second auction in 1996 generated $11.6 million and included the famous 1913 Liberty Head nickel, with only five known specimens.Eliasberg’s 1913 nickel became the first “million-dollar coin” as it commanded $1,485,000. It is important to note that Eliasberg acquired this famous nickel in 1949, for $2,350. From acquisition to auction, the 1913 Liberty Head nickel amassed a 1,342% profit each year for 47 years! The third and final auction in 1997 was the biggest of the three auctions, grossing $20.9 million. In this auction, a world record price was paid for a single coin: $1,815,000 for the 1804 silver dollar.
In total, the “King of Coins” collection realized an amazing $44.9 million for the Eliasberg family.
How You Can Learn From The King's Strategy
So how can you build a collection of coins that could have members of your family thanking you for generations to come? Simple. No need to reinvent the wheel, just follow Eliasberg’s example.
Here are the three Principles of the “King of Coins” buying strategy:
- Develop a disciplined buying pattern
- Work with a reliable, knowledgeable dealer
- Acquire the finest quality coins you possibly can afford.
Never view coin collecting/investing as a short-term spurt. Think of it as a long-term pastime. That’s what Eliasberg did. Establish a goal and a buying pattern and stick to your choices.
Finally, remember to always seek the finest coins possible just as Eliasberg did. The greater the quality of the coin, the greater its value.