Vignettes

Commentaries on Items in the Gross Collection

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Wednesday and Thursday, May 8-9, 2019 — Scott R. Trepel

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

1867-68 Grilled Issue

The 1893 de Coppet Sale and the 24¢ F Grill Pane

While the new Columbian commemorative stamps were on sale at post offices in 1893, news of the forthcoming auction of the de Coppet stamp collection was published in The New York Times (1/20/1893) under the headline, “VALUABLE STAMPS TO BE SOLD – THE COLLECTION OF F. DE COPPET TO BE SOLD AT AUCTION.”

The de Coppet auction, held by John W. Scott in April 1893, was the first really big “name” sale of stamps, and it attracted interest from collectors around the world. The de Coppet collection, heralded as the finest in the United States, featured a British Guiana 2¢ Cotton Reel, which sold to an agent for F. W. Hunter for $1,010, the record price for a single stamp at the time.

De Coppett Catalog Cover
1893 J. W. Scott Co. catalogue for the F. de Coppet collection

Frederick L. de Coppet (1844-1914) was a member of a wealthy New Jersey family and a principal in the New York stock brokerage firm, De Coppet & Company. During the 1880s de Coppet gained prominence as a stamp collector of considerable means. He joined local philatelic organizations and elicited fellow collectors’ awe and envy at the extent of his collection.

In 1909 the 65-year old de Coppet, apparently enjoying a midlife burst of passion, made the social pages when his wife Jane divorced him, claiming he had fallen in love with their French maid and had departed the American continent to live in Europe. De Coppet died on October 18, 1914, at the age of 70, having lived in Europe the last decade of his life.

De Coppet’s philatelic legacy is documented in the 1893 J. W. Scott auction catalogue. He owned a complete set of 1869 Pictorial Invert errors in used condition and a variety of classic issues, but the United States portion does not seem very impressive by today’s standards. The whole collection falls far short of those formed by de Coppet’s contemporaries, such as Ackerman, Ayer, Tapling or Ferrary.

The de Coppet auction aroused considerable attention, not all of which was favorable. Some felt that there were too many reserves, and that the bids executed by a dealer-agent were compromised by his employment by the principals.

The American Journal of Philately 4/29/1893 published the following review of the sale:

“This was without doubt, one of the most important events in the history of philately, as it presented to the stamp world the finest array of material that has ever been offered at public sale. A great deal of credit is due to Mr. De Coppet for the manner in which he arranged and catalogued his collection, and also for the excellent manner in which he brought it to the notice of all collectors as the work was all done by himself. Unfortunately the catalogue was marred by a number of rank frauds and also by a general tendency to exaggerate the condition of the stamps in the interest of the owner and against the interests of the buyer.

“We cannot, however, refrain from voicing the general sentiment that prevailed at the sale that ‘A string was tied to every lot’ and that, notwithstanding the fact of reserves being openly placed on some stamps, they were actually placed on every stamp in the collection no matter how unimportant or common.

“This is not the principle that is generally adopted in auction sales in America, and we hope that this beginning will not be an entering wedge for such methods in the future.”

The AJP editor, Henry L. Calman, operated the Scott Stamp & Coin Co.  and was J. W. Scott’s competitor, so his criticism of the manner in which the de Coppet sale was conducted must be taken with salt. However, these were the Wild West days of stamp auctions, so it is likely that fakes and forgeries were included in the sale, and some degree of chandelier bidding occurred.

A subsequent AJP article (8/31/1893) quoted John N. Luff’s comments in another journal:

“Mr. John N. Luff’s article on the De Coppet's sale in the June number of our Pacific Coast contempory [sic] voices a very wide spread sentiment. Writing more in sorrow than in anger Mr. Luff lements [sic] the scattering of the De Coppet gems. As thus: ‘To Mr. De Coppet having sold his birthright for a mess of poftage, let us extend our heartiest sympathies. The thing that should have been a monument to him is only a memory. His treasures are scattered to the four parts of the earth. They adorn scores of collections, gems that delight the beholder, but how insignificant beside the grand aggregation that was. That he sold it is his own affair. But oh! ‘the pity of it, the pity of it! ’

“Mr. Luff would have preferred to see some millionaire walk along, buy up the De Coppet collection in its entirety, and make it over to the nation for exhibition in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Smithsonian Institute – American equivalents, we suppose, to our British and South Kensington Museums.

“Then as to the prices realized at the De Coppet auction. Mr. Luff is filled with amazement at this part of the business. ‘Though I bid from 50 to 500 per cent. above catalogue prices,’ says he, ‘I secured only five lots, two of which were damaged, though not so described.’ Not only in this matter, but in other details, Mr. Luff is very dissatisfied with the recent great sale. Nor is he alone in this, though many others are quite as ready to swear that everything connected with the De Coppet sale was perfectly fair, square, and above-board. It is a matter that some really independent American stamp journal might do well to thoroughly overhaul.”

The Unique Pane of Scott 99

The 24¢ 1861-68 was printed from one plate, Plate 6, comprising 200 subjects, arranged in left and right panes of 100 separated by a vertical gutter. Plate 6 was used for the trial printing in Dark Violet (First Color) and for all subsequent printings. In 1868 a supply of sheets was grilled with the F Grill roller (Scott 99), using the machine patented by Charles F. Steel.

A complete pane of 100 from the right side of the original sheet was sold as lot 1944 in the 1893 de Coppet auction. It is listed in the section of 1868 Grills and described as “24¢ VIOLET, entire sheet with perfect margins, original gum, fine in every way, probably unique, 100 (stamps).” The pane was sold for $300.

De Coppet Lot 1944
Lot 1944, the complete pane of Scott 99

None of the items in the sale catalogue were illustrated, but we are certain that de Coppet’s 24¢ F Grill pane was the source of several blocks that appeared in later auctions, including the imprint and plate number block of 8 from the Gross United States Stamp Treasures sale on October 3, 2018, and the block of 15 offered in the Gross United States Stamp Multiples sale on May 8-9, 2019. Using digital images, we have reconstructed portions of the de Coppet pane from blocks photographed in later auctions.

Scott 99 Pane Reconstruction
Digital reconstruction of 24¢ F Grill pane in de Coppet collection—the plate block at bottom was in the Gross U.S. Treasures sale and the block of 15 at center is in the Gross U.S. Multiples sale on May 8-9, 2019

After the 1893 de Coppet sale and division of the 24¢ F Grill pane into smaller units, the plate block and a few other blocks were acquired by the Cleveland tycoon George H. Worthington, and the block of 15 became part of automobile magnate Joseph T. Lozier’s collection. A large block of 18 from the upper right corner eventually found a place in Colonel Edward H. R. Green’s collection. When it was sold in Part 23 of the Green sales (Barr 10/15-18/1945), it was immediately divided into smaller blocks, as documented in a note from Philip H. Ward, Jr., who wrote “[the block] was broken... in New York yesterday so that my Lozier block of 15, which is well centered, is the largest block now known to me” (Ashbrook index files).

Block of 15 in Gross U.S. Multiples sale May 8-9

Ward’s block of 15 passed to the Weills in 1963, when they bought his estate, and one year later it was sold to their principal client, Benjamin D. Phillips. The entire Phillips collection was acquired by the Weills in 1968 for $4.07 million. After a few appearances in auctions, the block of 15 was bought by Christopher Rupp in the 1992 Rarities of the World sale and later sold privately to Mr. Gross.