Of all American coin collections, perhaps the most famous – and complete – was the cabinet assembled by Louis E. Eliasberg Sr. Built during the 1940s and 1950s, Eliasberg’s holdings represented the most comprehensive numismatic collection. It was 100% complete save for the 1870-S Half Dime, which was not discovered until the late 1970s after Eliasberg passed away.
While Eliasberg’s collection represented an incredible accomplishment, much of the “heavy lifting” was accomplished for him. In 1942, Louis Eliasberg acquired the incredible Clapp collection for the massive sum of $100,000. J.M. Clapp was an active buyer of coins from the 1880s until his death in 1906, then his son J.H. Clapp continued to add to the collection for decades thereafter. After he acquired the Clapp collection, Eliasberg only had a short list of major rarities to complete the set.
Fortunately, many fabulous collections hit the market between 1942 and 1950. During that time period, Eliasberg filled the remaining holes in the collection and brought it to completion. He also upgraded numerous coins; the lesser-quality specimens were auctioned off. Not only did Eliasberg have the benefit of a massive budget, but he was fortunate to have taken on the project when so many fabulous coins were available in the marketplace.
Eliasberg passed away in 1976 and the collection was left to his heirs. The gold coins were sold at auction in 1982. At that sale, two major rarities changed hands for record prices. The unique 1870-S Three Dollar Gold Piece – the only specimen known – fetched an astounding $687,500. That coin landed in the Harry W. Bass collection and is now on exhibit at the American Numismatic Association. The second record-breaking coin was the 1822 Half Eagle. Just three are known, but two are impounded in the Smithsonian Institute. It, too, realized an impressive $687,500.
The copper, nickel and silver coins from the Eliasberg collection were auctioned in 1996 and 1997. More records were set during these two auctions. The 1913 Liberty Nickel, believed to be the finest known, became the first coin to ever sell for seven figures. When the bidding ended, the final price was $1,485,000. This record would be broken when the 1804 Dollar was offered for sale; it realized the lofty price of $1,815,000. Although it fell just short of the million dollar mark, it’s also worth noting that Eliasberg’s 1885 Trade Dollar fetched $907,500 – an incredible sum for the time.