Wednesday, October 3rd, will be a bittersweet day for us. On that day we’ll begin the series of auction sales to disperse one of the greatest United States stamp and postal history collections ever formed. We are selling not just any collection, but the collection formed by the world-renowned bond fund manager, William H. “Bill” Gross.
Many people know of Bill Gross from his countless appearances and interviews on business channels over the years. He is the legendary investor, managing billions of dollars of assets and astutely analyzing the financial markets. But we are among the few who know a side of Bill Gross that is not so public. It is the person we have grown to admire and respect over our quarter-century relationship.
It began with a telephone call from Bill late in 1992. He wished to bid in an auction at Ivy, Shreve & Mader, a company we managed for many years. He introduced himself by saying, “I would like to make arrangements to spend upwards of one million dollars,” which we thought was odd, since the entire auction was barely worth that much. Up to that point, we had never heard of Bill Gross or the reputation he was building in the financial world. Although he bid in the auction, he was largely unsuccessful. As with many collectors starting out, he was just beginning to feel his way in the market, learning the material and the values. Bill’s great intellect made him a quick learner, and he rapidly developed a keen eye for quality and awareness of which items were “important.”
Bill approached us early on and asked if we would become his philatelic advisors, which he later described as his “golf swing” coaches of stamps. He was determined to build what he hoped would be one of the most important United States collections ever formed. Bill certainly had the means and inclination to embark on such a journey. That he chose us to be his trusted guides was a life-changing moment for us. We remain grateful for his decision and humbled by the honor.
It was fortuitous that Bill made his decision to build an important collection in mid-1993, just before the collection formed by Ryohei Ishikawa was going under the hammer at Christie’s. Bill asked us to advise and represent him in the sale. Even at this formative stage in his collecting career, Bill understood and recognized the extraordinary items presented in that sale. If he were going to build a world-class collection, the Ishikawa sale was a critical buying opportunity.
Over the two-day auction in September 1993, Bill was hugely successful in acquiring many of the important items from the Ishikawa collection, and we were excited to have counseled him in the process. After the auction, he asked us if our very young son, Anthony, collected stamps, and we said not yet, given he was only three years old. Bill’s response was, “well, he does now... I want to give him lot 437, which I just bought.” It was a magnificent Civil War patriotic cover he paid many thousands of dollars for just a few hours earlier. It was the first of Bill’s many generous and kind gestures towards our family.
Over the next two and a half decades we assisted Bill in amassing what is, without question, an unrivalled and breathtaking assemblage of many of the most iconic and desirable items in United States philately. This first auction sale is just the tip of the Gross philatelic iceberg, with more auctions to follow in 2019 and 2020.
While working together in building this collection—Bill always calls his collection “our” collection—he has displayed a remarkably generous side to us and to the world in general. A gesture that still leaves the two of us speechless occurred when the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., needed an additional $2,000,000 to begin construction of the new William H. Gross National Stamp Gallery. After Bill had already committed the initial gift of $9,000,000, he agreed to fund the additional $2,000,000, with one proviso: the main gallery within the museum—the National Stamp Salon, which was to hold the museum’s most famous and valuable stamp treasures—had to be named for us. Having a Smithsonian gallery with your name on it is an unusual honor, to say the least, and it was Bill’s generosity that made it happen for us.
More important, Bill’s philanthropy has made a huge difference to so many less fortunate people in the world, and stamps have played a role. How? Because in 2007, Bill approached us and said it was time to start selling his stamp collections from countries other than the United States (he was still actively adding to the U.S.). In the period from 2007 through 2016, Bill sold in excess of $27,000,000 worth of his worldwide stamps and donated most of those proceeds to such worthy causes as Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute and the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Just as earlier sales have made a difference in the world, some portion of the proceeds from the forthcoming auction series will benefit charitable organizations.
Returning to the opening thought of this introduction, it is a bittersweet moment for us. Letting go of “our” stamp collection is difficult, but Bill has made the decision it is time to share his philatelic treasures with other collectors. He wants them to take on the responsibility of protecting and sharing the rare and unique artifacts of America’s postal history. As he discovered, the pride of ownership is enhanced when others join in for the journey.
Thank you, Bill, for your trust, kindness and willingness to let us participate with you in building a United States philatelic collection that will be talked about and admired for generations to come.