History of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries
From the Early Years to 1991
The Siegel firm was founded by Robert A. Siegel (1913-1993) in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1930. With 2018 sales of $36 million, Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries is one of the world’s highest-grossing stamp auction companies and by far the largest in the U.S.
As a teenager in the midst of the Great Depression, Mr. Siegel made a successful living selling stamps from his home at 4112 Harrison Street. The house was built in 1905 and still stands today (a photograph is shown here).
The first Siegel auction (Sale 1) was a mail sale of “U.S. Wholesale Lots” that closed on Thursday, May 28, 1931, a few days before Mr. Siegel’s 18th birthday. Included among the 160 lots were blocks and sheets of the complete 1929 Kansas overprint set (Scott 658-668), which Mr. Siegel had purchased directly from post offices throughout Kansas, making his first big purchase in the stamp business.
Later in 1931, Mr. Siegel was able to rent an office in the Shukert Building in downtown Kansas City. In 1932 he moved to 1326 Main Street, and from there the “Robert Siegel” firm continued to run mail auctions. During this time he adopted the slogan, “Our stamps make your album smile.”
The 25th sale on October 17, 1934, was the Siegel firm’s first public auction (as opposed to mail sales). It was conducted at Mr. Siegel’s new office in Room 605 at 116 Nassau Street in New York City, which was known as the city’s Stamp Center.
The Sale 25 catalogue announced “With the purchase of a dealers U.S. stock we are now better equipped to handle collectors and dealers U.S. wants.” The same ad stated that the “branch store” in Kansas City continued to be “open as usual for local collectors.”
In 1935 Mr. Siegel opened a store at 30 Rockefeller Center, the famed “30 Rock” skyscraper that was known as the RCA Building from its opening in 1933 until 1988. Public auctions were not permitted in this new location, so for the next three years the Siegel firm held mail auctions exclusively.
In 1938 Mr. Siegel resumed holding public auctions at 116 Nassau Street, in partnership with Herbert F. Reuben under the name Stamp Sales Service. The announcement described it as a joint venture between Robert A. Siegel Auction Sales and Rumark Company Auction. It lasted about one year. In 1939 Mr. Siegel continued holding public auctions under his name only.
At the beginning of 1940, just as the war in Europe was raging, the Siegel firm moved from Nassau Street to 505 Fifth Avenue, at the intersection of 42nd Street, which was known as the “Fifth Avenue Philatelic Center.” The Mozian firm had a second floor office with illustrations of stamps on the windows facing Fifth Avenue.
Once the Siegel firm established its Fifth Avenue office, public auctions became regular monthly events, and the catalogues started to take the familiar form that would endure for decades. The quality of material, including rare stamps, multiples, fancy cancellations and covers, improved as Mr. Siegel gained knowledge and stature in the market. It was also during the World War II years that Mr. Siegel commissioned the firm that designed the famous script Cadillac logo to create the “Robert A. Siegel” logo that has been used continuously to this day.
The firm’s 100th sale was held without any special fanfare on June 20, 1944. Mr. Siegel’s only personal comment in the catalogue was that he was “Going West” on a buying trip, and he invited prospective sellers to contact him.
Later in 1944, Mr. Siegel gave up his 505 Fifth Avenue office and moved to Saugerties, New York, then to White Plains in 1946. Auctions were usually held at The Collectors Club of New York or the White Plains office during this period.
After the death of Colonel Edward H. R. Green in 1936 and a protracted court battle over estate taxes, the massive stamp collection he formed by was sold in a series of 28 auctions from 1942 to 1946, comprising more than 50,000 lots, spread among nine auctioneers chosen by Walter S. Scott, a stamp auctioneer. The Siegel firm was never given any of the Green sales, because Walter Scott insisted on calling the auctions, and Mr. Siegel refused to have anyone but Gregory Mozian call the sales.
At the beginning of 1951, the Siegel firm opened a new office at the old 505 Fifth Avenue location. A year later Mr. Siegel scored a coup in securing for sale the dealer’s stock formed by the famous Burger Brothers, which he sold in four sales in 1952 and 1953.
The quality of Siegel auctions escalated rapidly in the 1950s, even in the face of competition from monumental firms such as H. R. Harmer in New York and London, and the Harmer, Rooke & Co. firm, operated in New York by Gordon Harmer. Now in his 40s, Mr. Siegel’s knowledge and eye, a growing reputation for ethical business conduct, and his relationships with collectors and dealers of the era were effective in attracting more “name” collections and valuable properties.
On May 25, 1955, for the first time in one of its auctions, the Siegel firm offered an example of the 24¢ Inverted Jenny as part of the “DeLuxe Collection of United States Stamps” (Sale 180), which was sold anonymously on behalf of Jack Dick. The sale was deemed important enough to be held at the Hotel Biltmore. The stamp was Position 84, a Mint N.H. copy.
In the same year the Siegel firm moved a few doors down to 489 Fifth Avenue, where auctions were held until 1964. This decade, from 1955 through 1964, was the period of ascendency for the Siegel firm.
More than one hundred auctions were held during this time, including noteworthy collections, such as Dr. Clarence W. Brazer (Sale 185), Jack Dick (Sales 203-204), Emmerson C. Krug (Sale 210), Henry W. Hill (Sale 216), Saul Newbury (Sales 240, 244, 247, 251, 255 and 264) and T. Cullen Davis (Sales 276 and 278).
It was also during this period that the Siegel firm held its first signature “Rarities of the World” auction (Sale 267). The Rarities Sale concept was designed to bring together a small number of extremely rare and valuable items for a major auction event once each year. The first sale featured the unique centerline block of the 24¢ Inverted Jenny, which brought $67,000 on February 27, 1964. Since 1964, Rarities of the World auctions have been held continuously to this day.
In the spring of 1964, the firm relocated to 10 East 52nd Street, off Fifth Avenue. Joining the firm in 1964 was his stepson, Andrew Levitt (1940-2005), who worked for Mr. Siegel for seven years before going into business on his own as a dealer and auctioneer.
Mr. Siegel celebrated his 51st birthday at the new 52nd Street location, and he was soon to achieve new heights of prominence in the world of philately when the executors of the estate of Josiah K. Lilly, Jr. (1893-1966), a pharmaceutical magnate and one of the foremost stamp collectors of the 20th century, chose the Siegel firm to auction Lilly’s multimillion-dollar collection. The series of ten sales were held in 1967 and 1968, and in total they realized $3,144,752 (Sales 312, 314, 317, 318, 321, 323, 327, 334, 340, 344). The Lilly sales established the Siegel firm as an international leader in stamp auctions.
In 1970 the Siegel name was broadcast around the globe when it sold the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta for $280,000 in the 1970 Rarities of the World auction (Sale 371). The stamp had been part of the “Great” collection of British Guiana, formed by Frederick T. Small, and the sale of the unique One-Cent Magenta made headlines.
In 1971 the firm moved to 120 East 56th Street, off Park Avenue, and from there conducted 180 sales over the next ten years.
In 1981 the firm relocated a few doors away at 160 East 56th Street. In that year the famous and unique British Guiana One-Cent Magenta was sold again for $935,000 ($850,000 plus the 10% buyer’s premium) to John E. du Pont (Sale 560).
A major change in the Siegel firm took place at the beginning of 1992, when Scott R. Trepel (born 1962) joined Mr. Siegel as a 49% partner in the firm, and the office was moved to Park Avenue Tower at 65 East 55th Street.
Sadly, the two partners only worked together for about two years before Mr. Siegel passed away in December 1993, just weeks after calling the Rarities of the World sale, his thirtieth since 1964.
Scott Trepel and the Siegel Firm Since 1992
Scott has served as the firm’s president since acquiring his initial ownership stake in 1992. He has been personally involved in the sale of more than one-half billion dollars worth of stamps since starting his career in 1980.
Scott held the gavel when many records were broken, including the Inverted Jenny plate block at $2.97 million, the Brazil Pack strip at $2.185 million, the Hawaiian 2c Missionary cover at $2.090 million, the Inverted Jenny single at $977,500 and the 1c Z Grill at $935,000.
Scott’s interest in philately runs much deeper than buying and selling stamps. He has published numerous research articles in well-respected journals and has been the 1869 Section Editor of the U.S. Classics Society’s journal for many years. He authored Rarity Revealed: The Benjamin K. Miller Collection for the Smithsonian National Postal Museum and The New York Public Library. Scott has also self-published books on the City Despatch Post and the Pony Express.
For his research work in U.S. philately, the U.S. Classics Society awarded Scott the Chase Cup on five separate occasions (1989, 1994, 2003, 2006 and 2018). He also won the society’s 1987 Neinken Award and 1996 Distinguished Philatelist Award.
Scott’s proudest contribution to philately has been the development of award-winning auction catalogues that incorporate a high level of research, including census data and historical background for the items offered. The catalogues he and his team produced for the Honolulu Advertiser Hawaii collection, the Robert Zoellner U.S. collection, the David Golden Carriers and Locals collection, the Alan B. Whitman U.S. collection, the Twigg-Smith Pony Express collection and the Steven C. Walske Civil War Special Routes collection are all considered valuable information sources.
In 1995, under Scott’s sole direction, the Siegel firm sold one of the most important and valuable single-country collections ever offered—the Honolulu Advertiser collection of Hawaii (Sale 769), formed by Thurston Twigg-Smith, whose great-great-grandparents arrived with the first American missionaries in 1820. The $9.8 million realization for the sale established the world record for a stamp collection sold up to that time. The famous Dawson cover with a 2¢ Hawaiian Missionary stamp brought $2.09 million, a record price for a U.S.-related cover sold at auction.
In 1998, Scott acquired the 51% ownership interest in the Siegel firm still held by Mr. Siegel’s daughter and son-in-law. In the same year, Bob Zoellner—a long-time client and friend of Scott’s—decided to sell his complete U.S. stamp collection. The Siegel firm created a sale catalogue that contained a wealth of information never before presented. In another historic philatelic auction (Sale 804), records were shattered and the sale brought $8.03 million, the most ever for a U.S. stamp collection. The 1¢ Z Grill, Scott 85A, realized $935,000, the highest price ever paid for a single U.S. stamp up to then. It was bought by a young Zachary Sundman, who sat with his father, Don, the well-known stamp dealer.
Siegel Auction Galleries moved to 60 East 56th Street, just next door to Park Avenue Tower, in the summer of 2001. It was across the street from the second tallest building in New York City, 432 Park Avenue, a luxury residential building.
In 2005 the Siegel firm established another record auction price when it sold the 24¢ Inverted Jenny plate block for $2,970,000 (Sale 901). The plate block was sold to Charles Shreve on behalf of Bill Gross, and the next day it was traded to Don Sundman for the 1¢ Z Grill that Gross needed to complete his U.S. collection. The auction sale and “big stamp trade” made news headlines around the world.
Because Siegel is by far the world’s leading auctioneer of U.S. stamps, it is sometimes forgotten that many important collections of other countries’ stamps have been successfully marketed and sold through the Siegel. In 2008 the “Islander” collection of South America (Sale 957) set new records, including the highest price ever paid for a South American stamp—$2,185,000—realized by the famous Brazil “Pack Strip.” Worldwide stamps are now offered by Siegel International under the direction of Charles F. Shreve.
In the current century, Siegel has held numerous important “name” auctions, including Twigg-Smith’s Pony Express (Sale 979), the Alan B. Whitman collection of U.S. (Sale 968 in three parts), Frelinghuysen Postmasters’ Provisionals and U.S. stamps (Sale 1020-1021), Steven Walske’s Hawaii (Sale 1045) and Grant Inman U.S. Officials, Newspapers & Periodicals and Revenue Issues (sales 1131, 1135, 1137, 1149, 1160, 1164 and 1173).
In 2017 Siegel moved to 6 West 48th Street, across from Rockefeller Center, with its landmarked Art Deco buildings, centrally located in midtown Manhattan.
In 2018 the firm held the first of a series of auctions to disperse the William H. Gross collection (in association with Charles Shreve and Tracy Carey) — the October 2018 U.S. Treasures sale realized more than $10 million. The May 2019 U.S. Multiples sale realized more than $6 million.
An important part of the Siegel firm’s marketing is the dissemination of information through siegelauctions.com. Census data for rarities, scholarly research articles, pricing data and Power Search are resources for collectors and dealers found only on the Siegel website. Educating and informing philatelists have proven to be the best way to increase prices for sellers.
Stamp collecting is a hobby that provides tremendous educational benefits. It can be pursued in quiet solitude, with a spouse or child, or in a vast social network of people who share similar interests. Collectors can find enjoyment and fulfillment by placing stamps in an album or by developing highly advanced forms of presentation, including competitive exhibiting for awards. Many collectors reach their goals and sell one collection, only to form another. Others pass their collections to the next generation for continuation or to preserve assets.
Whatever way a collector chooses to collect, the Siegel firm—with a history dating back to 1930—is ready to provide the material and information resources to make this hobby truly rewarding.