Born in 1896, Louis E. Eliasberg was easily one of the most renowned numismatists in American history. To date he is the only known coin collector to have assembled and completed a rare coin collection that included a specimen of each United States coin of every date, metal, denomination and mint mark ever struck, and which was known at that time. To say that is an extraordinary feat sounds like an understatement. Although, it’s important to note that by today’s standards his collection (immense as it was) would not be considered ‘truly complete’. This is because Eliasberg did not differentiate between proofs and circulation strikes. Nevertheless, it remains the most comprehensive United States coin collection of all time.
Eliasberg began his coin collecting quest in 1925 and over the course of 25 years (the time it took for him to complete his collection), it is believe he spent over $400,000, a fortune even in today’s market.
In 1942 Eliasberg made his single biggest coin investment when he purchased the famed (John M.) Clapp Collection for a reported $100,000. This collection was assembled between the 1890’s and 1930’s and contained rare coins purchased from auctions between 1895 and 1915 as well as directly from the United States Mint at the time of issue. Not only did the Clapp Collection contain specimens of incredibly rare coins, it was also virtually complete. Once Eliasberg had this already extensive collection, he used it as a ‘base’ and updated and filled it in over time.
He completed his coin quest on 7th November 1950 with the addition of a rare 1873 CC No Arrows Dime. The only coin that did not make it into his collection is the 1849 Double Eagle. This coin was categorized as a pattern coin and only two were ever minted. One of the coins is in the Smithsonian Institute and the whereabouts of the second coin is unknown.
Some of the more expensive coins in the Eliasberg collection included an:
• 1822 Half Eagle, which cost $14,000 when purchased in 1945 and sold for a staggering $687,500 in 1982. There are only three of these coins; the remaining two are in the Smithsonian Institute.
• 1870-S Three Dollar, which cost $11,550 when purchased in 1946 and also sold for $687,500 when sold in 1982.
After Eliasberg died in 1976, his huge collection was divided among his two children and subsequently sold. The gold coins were auctioned by Bowers and Ruddy in 1982 and the copper, nickel, and silver coins were auctioned by Bowers and Merena in two sales in 1996 and 1997. Together, the sales are considered to be among the greatest and finest group of US coins ever sold at auction. Collectively the sales of this famed collection fetched more than $57 million.