Commentaries on Items in the Gross Collection

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Wednesday and Thursday, May 8-9, 2019 — Charles F. Shreve

Sale 1200 — The William H. Gross Collection: Outstanding U.S. Stamp Multiples

The William H. Gross Collection

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

Few would dispute the claim that the various stamp collections formed by William H. Gross have reached legendary status, and that his collections combined rank amongst the most valuable and historically important philatelic collections ever formed.

Hard as it may be to imagine, Mr. Gross started stamp collecting like many of us. He began by visiting a local stamp store and browsing the selection of attractive, but certainly not valuable, United States and worldwide stamps. He was curious about stamp collecting at a beginner’s level.

His early interests were primarily focused on United States stamps, although he went on to form collections of certain other worldwide countries. As most collectors do, he set a fun and challenging goal, trying to collect a single example of every United States stamp. But, unlike most of us, he possessed the good financial fortune to reach such a lofty goal. He also had the perseverance and desire to succeed. And, by taking advantage of the special moments in time when the last of the few stamps he needed became available, he reached his goal, becoming one of only two collectors ever to form a complete collection of 19th and early 20th century United States stamps. At this point, his collection is more complete than the last complete collection, formed by Robert Zoellner, because he owns the stamps that have been added to the catalogue since then.

As he was filling in the last empty spaces in his stamp album, Mr. Gross found that while he loved his single stamps, he was impressed by the complexity of the great collections of the past, formed by such giants as Caspary, Lilly and Ishikawa. While perusing auction catalogues of the great “name” sales, he noticed that in addition to the single stamps, these fabulous collections were augmented with a fantastic array of multiples. Some were described as the largest or finest known. Some were imprint and plate number multiples from key positions in the sheet. All of these blocks appealed to his intellect and curiosity, and the hunt was on.

As Mr. Gross’s philatelic advisors, we became equally enthused about helping him build his collection in a way that would lead to greatness. Working together, we envisioned a collection with an example of every United States stamp, followed by a multiple of each issue if they existed— preferably the largest recorded multiple and a plate number multiple—and, to complete the picture, finish with a cover showing an extraordinary use of the stamp. In building his “dream” collection, Mr. Gross astutely recognized the significance of a buying opportunity, whether it was offered at auction or privately. If it helped to advance his goal, he seized the opportunity. As experienced collectors know, such opportunities come along very infrequently— some happen only once in a lifetime.

Mr. Gross was making great strides during the 1990s and early 2000s. One day, he read about an upcoming stamp exhibition to be held in 2006 in Washington, D.C., the “international” in which collectors exhibited their prized collections. He said to us, “I want to show my collection in Washington.” Our response was, “you simply can’t just say you want to exhibit your collection and they accept it. There is a process to be followed, whereby you exhibit your collection at local and national shows, gain experience as an exhibitor, earn certain minimum award levels, and then hope to be accepted for the ‘big’ show. In addition, there are arcane and quite arbitrary rules you have to follow to satisfy the judges at the show.” His response? “I don’t have to know these rules…you do!” And from there Bill Gross’s exhibiting career began.

From the start the Gross exhibit caused quite a stir in the exhibiting world. As fellow exhibitors are well aware, it is certainly never enough to just spend money and put the items on pages to win accolades and high-level awards. The material needs to be astutely presented and described. Working with Mr. Gross, we were able to create his magnificent exhibit of “United States Classics, 1847-1869.”

The goal to have a single example of every stamp, along with a multiple, plate number multiple and cover, was stymied by the lack of plate number multiples of the classic issues. If there is one thing judges hate, it is a hole in an exhibit. Judges like to point out such omissions and ask “why doesn’t he have the such-and-such block of the such and- such issue?” Frankly, in the beginning of Mr. Gross’s exhibiting journey, there were several glaring omissions, particularly in classic plate number multiples. Why? The simple fact is there are very few early classic stamps for which a plate number multiple exists. At that time, almost all were locked up in the remarkable collection formed by John “Jack” C. Chapin, a gentleman and patriot whose biography appears on page 111 of this catalogue.

As with most things in life, timing is everything. In 2002 Jack Chapin offered his collection for sale through a sealed bidding process arranged by his dealer representative, Andrew Levitt. Mr. Gross relied on us to bring to his attention anything of interest that came up for sale, whether publicly or privately. The Chapin collection contained almost all of the great plate number multiples that were the last pieces of the puzzle for his exhibit. Knowing that so many important pieces would find a home in Mr. Gross’s collection, we were able to submit the winning bid for the entire Chapin collection, and many items from the collection formed the pillars of the exhibit.

Four years later, at the end of the long, arduous road to Washington 2006, Bill Gross’s spectacular exhibit won the Grand Prix National. There is no doubt that the multiples, including items gleaned from the 1993 Ishikawa sale, 1998 Zoellner sale and the 2002 private acquisition of the Chapin collection, helped put his exhibit “over the top” for the Grand Prix against an array of outstanding competitors. Many of these stellar items are presented in this fantastic auction of “United States Stamp Multiples—The William H. Gross Collection.” We hope our clients derive as much joy in owning them as Mr. Gross did.