Stack’s-ANR: Two for the Money
Venerable coin firms join forces
By Leon Worden
"We’re here to give information to the public, inform them as best we can to make their decision on how to collect, and help them enjoy the hobby," said Larry Stack, third-generation leader of Stack’s of New York City.
Formed in 1933 by brothers Morton and Joseph Stack, the company that bears their surname has merged with American Numismatic Rarities of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire the three-year-old firm of numismatic icon Q. David Bowers.
The new company will be called "Stack’s" and the ANR name will fade away, Larry Stack said. But it isn’t a buyout.
"It’s a bona fide merger," Stack said. "The brand recognition is far better for Stack’s than ANR, once you get out of the coin industry. That’s where most coins come from, believe it or not. They’re not just traded dealer-to-dealer. On Google, we’re the No. 1 name that pops up under ‘rare coins.’"
Christine Karstedt formed ANR in March 2003 after she and Bowers left their old company, Bowers and Merena Galleries, which they had sold to Collectors Universe in 2000.
"The collectors and the dealers in the industry had a great deal of respect for what ANR has done with our technology, our customer service, the coins we offer," Karstedt said. "The ANR name itself has had a history of only three years, so by taking the ANR brand and applying it to the Stacks’ name and keeping the best of both organizations, I feel we’ll be able to market a good product for the future," she said.
The merger was effective Sept. 1, although the details were still being ironed out late into the month. Equity partners are Karstedt, Bowers, Larry Stack and his father, the current company patron, Harvey Stack.
Larry Stack is chief executive officer of the new company. Karstedt is president. Bowers and Harvey Stack were given the titles of "chairmen emeritus."
"They’d like to give us higher titles," Harvey Stack said, "but you’ve got to stop someplace on the ladder. And you do need a daily administrator and a sub-administration below it, like any company in the world."
"I mentioned that they should pick some title other than ‘emeritus,’" said Bowers. "I looked it up and ‘emeritus’ means retired with honors. I said I can just be ‘equity partner,’ because that shows that I have a deep commitment."
Bowers is far from retiring.
"I hope to die in the saddle," he said. "I’m 67 years old and I hope to live to be 124. I could retire if I want to, but I really love what I do. I like coins and coin people, and I love writing. Every day is exciting."
Unrelated to Stack’s and ANR, Bowers is also the numismatic director and a prolific author for Whitman Publishing LLC a fact that has fueled uncorroborated speculation that Whitman’s parent company, Anderson Press, has a stake in one or both coin companies.
"David has been an advisor to the Whitman Publications for quite some time, which has nothing to do with any of the other businesses," said Karstedt. "Larry [Stack] has been an advisor to Whitman, and over time, we certainly have become great friends with the Whitman organization. We support each other’s businesses and offer each other business advice in the course of everyday activities."
Anything beyond that is pure supposition. As privately owned companies, Stack’s and ANR are under no obligation to disclose financial terms or the identities of investors. Anderson Press is also private; the Anderson family-run public company, Books-A-Million, the No. 3 U.S. book retailer, buys many books from Anderson Press but has reported no interest in any coin firm.
Harvey Stack doesn’t see the addition of equity partners Bowers and Karstedt as a dilution of his family’s ownership of Stack’s.
"It is not really a dilution," he said. "It is an expansion of the brand. And being 78 years old, I wanted to see perpetuity of the brand."
"We believe numismatics needs as much dignity and importance as other collectible art fields," he said. "The idea is to maintain it. We want to maintain Stack’s as a leader and a performer of the job that is set before us."
Stack’s will keep and possibly expand its showroom at 123 West 57th Street. Auction cataloguing and research will continue in Wolfeboro. Bowers will continue to produce The Numismatic Sun, ANR’s award-winning quarterly company magazine. ANR and Stacks’ have collaborated on auctions in the past; they will likely hold their first joint auction under a single banner in November, Larry Stack said.
"As the months go forward," said Karstedt, "the New York staff and the Wolfeboro staff will be floating in and out of both locations, contributing to all projects as a group. We intend to roll out the best technology and the best customer service to all clients of both organizations."
Beyond the extension of ANR’s advanced Internet sales technology to the Stack’s operation and the benefits of doubling the staff, there was little that the four partners each an industry leader in his or her own right felt the merger would enable them to do that they couldn’t do on their own. Rather, it was a meshing of corporate cultures that simply make sense.
"I have always loved the people we deal with, collectors and many of the dealers, especially of our earlier days," Harvey Stack said. "I know Dave [Bowers] is the same way, because he and I have exchanged stories virtually from day one."
Day one came during the American Numismatic Associations’ 2003 convention in Baltimore. ANR was just out of the box.
"It just so happened that the ANR table was next to the Stack’s table," Karstedt said. "Larry and I became friends there. I teased him for a long time about me buying him out and sending him home to retire, and he teased me about building such a great organization, and wouldn’t I like to sell out?
"We are two stubborn old people. When we realized that neither one of us was going to sell out we are both very much family businesses and always want to be involved to make sure the family is taken care of appropriately we went forward with the merger."
"I’m not too sure that there is anything that we would be unable to do on our own," said Bowers. "Stack’s is a traditional firm, the longest-lived one in the United States. They have an excellent tradition and wonderful consignments and a nice location and many other things. On the other hand, ANR is young and dynamic Chris Karstedt could probably sell a personal computer to Bill Gates and they’re very enthusiastic about what they do. It’s a dream team."
He was careful to say that bigger doesn’t always mean better.
"I don’t think big is necessarily desirable," Bowers said. "I think there are people who would just as soon work for Tiffany than Wal-Mart. The ANR staff has a lot of dedicated numismatists, and Stack’s also, rather than, say, telephone sales people.
"If the two never joined, I’m sure both of them would get along very fine," Bowers said. "But there certainly will be some efficiencies of scale. There are some ANR systems that would be useful to Stack’s, and Stack’s has many contacts that would be valuable to ANR."
Those efficiencies could work wonders.
"When we send three people to a convention, the pressure on the others remains," Larry Stack said. "We could have 12 to 15 separate catalogs a year. It is unbearable."
"We overlap very well," he said. "If you do a demographic of the age groups [of employees], Stack’s is a little bit on the older side, but that means we have a bunch of young people coming up [through ANR] who are very capable."
Bowers and Harvey Stack are equally bullish on the talents of their respective auction cataloguers.
"The first time the Numismatic Literary Guild issued plaques honoring the best cataloguer of the year, we got it," Stack said. "We have at least five or six major cataloguers doing the [John J.] Ford collections. I hate to use the word ‘No. 1,’ but the one and two [best cataloguers] of paper money are staff members. The best on Colonials is a staff member. You pick the series."
"I had my first auction in 1957," said Bowers, "and I probably can probably catalog almost anything in the United States series with my eyes closed. But it also takes a team. I might do the rough cut on something, or someone else might do a rough cut and then pass it to me and I’ll add to it."
Only 28, "John Kraljevich is a rocket scientist of a numismatist," Bowers said. "He’s still learning, as we all are, but he is good at almost anything. Frank Van Valen has been around for a generation on staff [of Bowers’ current and former auction companies]. He’s very strong on mainstream United States coins and tokens. John Pack is good on paper money and coins. He has written on patterns, early gold, die varieties. I think we have enough numismatic talent for three companies."
Each house will benefit from the other’s expertise.
"You could show me a coin of the Byzantine empire and I couldn’t tell you what it is," Bowers said. "But I’m sure I could go down to Stack’s and have two people tell me what it is and what it’s worth and what the last one sold for."
Larry Stack expects the expanded staff to help him cover a variety of bases. Auctions remain an important part of the business, but they’re just one method of selling coins.
"We still have lots of people who come into the retail showroom and like to sit down and choose without the pressure of an auction," Larry Stack said. "We want to do more with retail and get back to the original concept. I think we need to get back to doing more one-on-one work with people in the office, going out on more appraisals; we’re being called by banks all the time. You can’t have five people on the road and expect productivity to work."
"We still sell the uncertified coin, and they [ANR] sell certified coins," he said. "There is a big demand for both. We’re not phasing out one in lieu of the other."
The merger is not intended to position Stack’s to go head-to-head with Heritage Auction Galleries, the volume leader in coin and collectibles auctions.
"We don’t want to put out 10,000 lots and sell catalogs," Larry Stack said. "We don’t want to have auctions running until 3 o’clock in the morning, or three sales at one time. We’re going to stick to the old, traditional way of doing it slow and steady.
"I don’t think of Heritage when we make decisions here. I don’t think, ‘Oh, goodness, what are they going to do?’ We’ve always run it the way we wanted to run it."
The feeling is mutual.
"I really don’t think [the merger] is going to make any difference one way or the other," said Heritage Co-Chairman Steve Ivy. While it might not hurt Heritage to have one fewer competitor, at least in name, "there is always somebody out there to be competitive with," he said.
Ivy doesn’t interpret the merger of Stack’s and ANR as a sign of overall market consolidation.
"There has been a lot of consolidation in the industry, particularly the auction portion of it," Ivy said. "But that doesn’t mean that the whole market is consolidating. It just means that parts of it are. The market is very organic in nature. There are always people branching off and starting new companies, and there are whole companies constantly combining. It’s a business that reinvents itself every few years."
Heritage has no plans to gobble up any smaller auction houses, Ivy said.
"Because of Heritage’s size, there really isn’t anybody we would want or need to merge with," he said. "We go after market share, but we don’t do it by buying other companies. We focus on doing what we do, and doing it well. The way we get bigger is to continue to do things better."
The merger with ANR should enable the new Stack’s to do a better job with the type of auctions it likes to run and not necessarily the big, "official" auctions held in conjunction with major coin conventions.
"ANR’s focus has been to offer the high-end material at a very small auction," Karstedt said auctions that are often held in convention cities a few days before the show. "Now we have the ability to do the pre-convention venue, which is a very short, strategic operation, and then we have our wonderful New York home base where we can offer coin gallery sales. We can have the collector-oriented sales, and we can have more volume here in New York."
"It’s just a question of making it more efficient and modern and giving the people what they want," said Larry Stack. "A lot of the older ideas still work."
©2006, MILLER MAGAZINES INC./LEON WORDEN. RIGHTS RESERVED.
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