Commentaries on Items in the Gross Collection

⇚ Select other Commentaries here (16 available)

September 27, 2019 — Charles F. Shreve

1211 — The William H. Gross Collection: United States Postal History

Introduction to Sale Three, by Charles F. Shreve and Tracy L. Carey

The William H. Gross Collection

"Oh, I had no idea stamp collecting could be so interesting” is a common response when we tell someone who is not a stamp collector about the fascinating collecting areas related to postal history. Putting stamps in an album is satisfying, but collecting covers is truly fascinating.

For most collectors, the simple pursuit of filling analbum with stamps is all they need to enjoy one of the world’s greatest hobbies. Most of us started our stamp collecting journey this way. Completing a page or country provides a satisfying sense of accomplishment.The stamps are the things that bring joy.

Stamp collectors inevitably encounter covers—the all-encompassing term applied to folded letters, envelopes and wrappers used to send mail—and, for some collectors, the way in which the stamps were used captures their intellectual curiosity.

Bill Gross is one such collector. He has been fortunate and determined enough to fill not just most, but all of the 19th century spaces in his United States album. During this phase of collecting, Bill’s intellectand interest in history attracted him to go deeper into stamp collecting and begin collecting covers. For Bill, and for thousands of other like-minded collectors,understanding the historical significance and beauty of stamps on their original covers became a passion. As with his singles and multiples, Bill’s collection of United States covers has grown to become what is irrefutably one of the greatest ever formed.

Owning covers connects a collector with the most romantic and historic events of the past. Bill found that he could acquire a cover with the first United States general issue used the day after the stamps were put on sale (his July 2, 1847, cover is on loan to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum). Or, he could hold in his hands a cover carried by the legendary Pony Express. And, from the Civil War era he found covers that crossed the lines of war to connect two people on different sides of a divided nation. As Bill appreciates, these artifacts of America’s past are historically important.

One of the ways Bill learned about covers was by studying auction catalogues of legendary collections, such as Caspary, Krug, Neinken, Rohloff, Grunin, Haas and Ishikawa. Bill would spend his precious free time reading these old catalogues and developing a mental want list of important covers. When opportunities arose to acquire the most important covers with provenance from these great collections, Bill never hesitated to seize the moment. His familiarity with past great collections gave Bill the ability to appreciate those rare golden opportunities, whether it was a single lot in an auction or an entire collection—for example, he bought the John R. Boker, Jr. 1847 and Joseph Hackmey 1847-1856 collections intact.

Collecting covers was a natural extension of his collection of rare stamps and multiples. It excited him to find different stamps on cover, and he particularly liked multiples, multicolor frankings, covers to exotic destinations, fancy cancellations and illustrated covers. When Bill began to exhibit his collections, these important and beautiful covers were essential to his success in garnering top international awards.

Bill’s number one area of interest has been Numbers 1 and 2—the 1847 5¢ and 10¢ stamps, the first United States general issues. This collection, perhaps more than any of his others, is what Bill Gross will be remembered for in the generations to come. There has never been a more comprehensive and important collection of this historically significant classic first issue, nor is it likely that a collector will be able to assemble such a collection again.

So, the next time you tell a non-collector about the joys and virtues of stamp collecting, make sure to explain the “cool” covers Bill Gross has owned. His covers, and those owned by others, are an amazing way to touch, feel and possess American history.

Finally, the catalogue you now have in your hands contains what is, in our opinion, the most comprehensive and important offering of United States postal history ever made in a single auction. We know that’s a bold claim, but we believe that the artifacts in this sale, which range from the beautiful to the iconic, valued from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars, will support it. If Bill were still collecting and a sale like this presented itself, he would tell us to “hit it hard.” We hope other bidders will do the same.