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

Louisiana Purchase Issue

The One and Only 2¢ Louisiana Purchase Error Plate Block

The 2¢ Louisiana Purchase Imperforate Horizontally (Scott 324a) is one of the rarest and most desirable of 20th century postage stamp errors. Among horizontally imperforate errors produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, it was preceded by 2¢, 5¢ and 6¢ 1894 First Bureau, the 8¢ Trans-Mississippi and the 2¢ 1903 Shield issues. Although the discovery of the error pane of 50 has been documented by philatelic writers, there has been a serious misstatement of fact in previous published articles. Research for the Gross U.S. Multiples sale uncovered the truth about the error pane and, in particular, the plate block in the Gross collection.

According to Sloane’s Column (2/8/1958), a pane of 50 stamps was found at the post office in Cleveland, Ohio. The stamp was issued on April 30, 1904, and the error was found within six weeks of issue. The pane was sold by a “girl” at the window of Station B to A. W. Weigel, whom Sloane describes as a “postal carrier” who also had philatelic knowledge. In fact, Weigel operated the Ohio Stamp Company and was secretary-treasurer of the Garfield-Perry Stamp Club.

The error pane was purchased shortly after Weigel’s fortuitous post office find by famed collector George H. Worthington of Cleveland, reportedly for $100. Worthington held the pane until 1917, when his collection was sold by J. C. Morgenthau & Co. The pane had been divided prior to the sale, to allow multiple collectors to obtain an example of the variety. In the Worthington auction, 26 of the 50 stamps were offered; the remaining 24 stamps were sold privately.

Unique 2¢ Louisiana Purchase Imperforate Horizontally plate block

Sloane and other writers have always stated that top and bottom plate blocks exist, presumably based on the layout of the plate, not on any personal encounter with both plate blocks. However, the top plate block has never been seen, and for good reason—it does not exist. We have been able to painstakingly reconstruct the pane, except for one pair. As the reconstruction shows, the top plate block can no longer exist, because the top sheet selvage with the imprint was trimmed off.

Digital reconstruction of 2¢ Louisiana Purchase Imperforate Horizontally error pane of 50 (Scott 324a) showing the top margin was trimmed off and proving the bottom plate block is unique

As for the left half of the error sheet, it has been written that the female postal clerk remembered selling it, but it is more likely that it was never released or was fully perforated. We base our theory on the perforating method.

The sheets of 100 were perforated in two steps. First, the vertical rows of perforations were applied with the perforating wheels set at the correct width for the wider horizontal dimensions of the stamp. A cutting blade replaced the wheel of pins at the center of the sheet, so that the act of perforating the sheet along the vertical axis resulted in the division of the sheet into two panes (each with a straight edge along the guide line).

Second, each pane of 50 was perforated in the horizontal direction, using a different setting for the narrower height of the stamp design. Therefore, while it is possible that both panes were left imperforate horizontally, it is more likely that one pane was fully perforated and the other (the right half) was not.

Another possibility is that one or both panes were marked as defective by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing examiner, but only one was removed from distribution. This scenario might explain why the top selvage was trimmed off the error pane sold in Cleveland. Perhaps the discoverer, A. W. Weigel, a knowledgeable philatelist, did not want to give postal officials any justification for reclaiming the sheet, so he trimmed off the top margin with the examiner’s mark.