Dr. Sol Taylor

The Only Complete U.S. Coin Collection

Louis Eliasberg
Louis Eliasberg chomps on his trademark cigar while he weighs a stack of gold pieces in this 1962 Baltimore Sun photograph (republished in "Louis E. Eliasberg Sr.: King of Coins" by Q. David Bowers, 1996).
By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, November 1, 2008

ouis Eliasberg accomplished what no one before and certainly no one since has been able to achieve — that is, assemble a complete collection of all United States coins (not counting varieties).
    Eliasberg, 1896-1976, was a Baltimore financier who started seriously collecting coins in 1925. His goal was simple: "A complete collection of all U.S. coins." The task, however, took several decades and a reported $400,000 — an amount equal to at least $100 million in today's dollars.
    The task was possible back then, when various estates of well-heeled collectors put their entire collections up for sale. Thus some super-rarities and unique pieces such as the unique 1870-S $3 gold piece would come up for sale once in decades.
    Aside from the large amount of money required to buy some single rarities, often Eliasberg would buy an entire collection just to fill in a handful of coins he did not already own.
    In 1942, he purchased the Clapp Estate Collection through Stack's of New York for $100,000. Many of the coins the senior Clapp acquired directly from the Mint in the period from 1892 to 1906. Not only was the Clapp Collection 99 percent complete — all U.S.-issued coins; it was also of the highest grade for most of the coins.
    This acquisition capped the Eliasberg collection, and only a few upgrades since then polished off the title of "The only complete United States Coin Collection."
    Eliasberg's heirs sold the entire collection in a series of public auctions from 1982 to 1997. The yield was $44.5 million.
    Since no collector today has even a fraction of a complete collection, as the coins were parceled to many different buyers, and a few are tied up permanently in museums, no one has a chance to pursue the ultimate collector goal.
    Even Bill Gates could not use his fortune to match Louis Elaisberg's lifetime achievement.