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Commentaries on Items in the Gross Collection

⇚ Select other Commentaries here (16 available)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018 — Scott R. Trepel

1188 - United States Stamp Treasures from the William H. Gross Collection

1847 Issue

The 10¢ 1847 Bible Block

Lot 14

The block of six in the Gross collection is the largest unused multiple of the 10¢ 1847 Issue. It also happens to be the largest multiple in private hands, since the famous “Bandholtz” blocks—larger, but used—are forever enshrined in the Swiss Museum of Communications as part of the Hirzel collection. The block of six has original gum and is in superb condition. It first appeared in a 1912 auction held in New York City by the Philadelphia Stamp Company, which also offered a companion block of six of the 5¢ 1847. Although this early auction catalogue did not picture the lots, we know the 5¢ block of six was the one shown below.

The origin of these two blocks was not disclosed at the time, but was later attributed to be the Rives family of Virginia and Washington, D.C. It was also reported that the blocks were found in a family bible. Through diligent research, we have located the bible in the University of Virginia Library.

Cabell Rives

William Cabell Rives (1792/1793-1868) was a Virginian who served in the Virginia House of Delegates, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, and as minister to France in two separate terms—1829-1832 and again in 1849-1852. The last term of service is significant. The Rives family bible was acquired and inscribed by W. C. Rives in January 1825. It is plausible that he placed the two 1847 blocks in the bible before leaving for France in 1849. Then, having failed to redeem the stamps, he simply forgot about them after returning home.

Alfred Landon

After William’s death in 1868, the bible evidently passed to his son, Alfred Landon Rives. Alfred died in 1903, and his wife Sadie died at Castle Hill, the Rives home in Virginia, on October 7, 1909. Their children deposited the bible with the University of Virginia Library in 1948 for study purposes and donated it in 1959, so it was definitely in their possession after their parents’ deaths. It is still in the library stacks and available for viewing (Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, MSS 2855).

After their mother’s death in 1909, the surviving Rives children would have a reason to go through old family papers and books, including the bible. The reported sale of the blocks to Scott Stamp and Coin Co. neatly dovetails Sadie’s death and the 1912 auction.

Reconstruction of the blocks of six
and four of the 10c 1847 Issue

While comparing the three recorded unused 10¢ 1847 blocks, we discovered something else about the Rives Bible Block. It was originally joined with the block of four last sold when the Siegel firm offered the Harvey Mirsky collection in 2012. Thus, it appears that the Rives bible yielded either a block of ten that was cut apart, or two blocks of the 10¢ already separated. This has never been recognized since the block of four first appeared at auction in the 1946 Colonel Green sale held by Costales.

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