Commentaries on Items in the Gross Collection

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018 — Scott R. Trepel

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

1869 Pictorial Issue

The 1889 Eden Musée Exhibition

Lot 89

In 1938 the renowned philatelic expert described the 24¢ 1869 Inverted Center Error block as “one of the most wonderful of all the surprising survivals.” Others have placed it at the top of the list of “most important” United States philatelic items, and of worldwide rarities in general. When LIFE magazine presented a cover story and multipage spread of the world’s rarest stamps in 1954, the 24¢ Invert block was shown with a $65,000 value, more than twice the value for the Inverted Jenny block of four pictured on the same page.

The block was discovered in Liverpool, England, around 1888. It was sold in the fall of 1888 to a New York stamp dealer, who in turn sold it for $200 to a Long Island millionaire named William Thorne, the second president of the Collectors Club of New York and one of the earliest collectors to specialize in blocks.

William Thorne

Soon after acquiring the block, Thorne exhibited his treasure in one of the world’s earliest stamp exhibitions, held in March 1889 by members of the Brooklyn Philatelic Club, the National Philatelical Society and the Staten Island Philatelic Society. Inside the Eden Musée, an amusement center located on West 23rd Street just off Fifth Avenue, 272 pages of stamps from 161 countries were displayed by 31 members. The American Journal of Philately reported that among the United States stamps displayed was “the superb block of 1869 24c. with inverted centre...” Reviews of the exhibition were published in the leading newspapers, and the New York Times marveled that there were more than 10,000 stamps worth $200,000 in one place.

1889 Exhibit at Eden Musee 

In 1897 Thorne took his block on a transatlantic voyage to England, where it was exhibited at the Philatelic Society, London, exhibition inside the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours. The exhibition was hosted by The Royal Philatelic Society London and attended by their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of York. A year earlier, HRH The Duke of York, an avid stamp collector, had become president of the society, and in 1910 he would become renowned as King George V, the king who collects stamps.

Thorne won the top award for his exhibit of “100 rare stamps,” which the London Philatelist commentor called “unrivalled in this class.” Mentioned in the description of Thorne’s spectacular display is the block, described as “1869, the series with inverted centre, including a block of four of the 24 c.,” which the commentator wrote was “the apotheosis of bloating!”