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


The Sixth Wave

Ferrary PortraitEvery time I prepare to write a catalogue entry for a philatelic treasure, I ask the question, what makes this item so special? I asked that question 106 times for this catalogue.

To come up with all of the answers, it took 38 years of accumulated experience and a month of eighteen-hour days researching paper and digital records, hunting down leads, turning the pages of dusty old books in the Collectors Club library, and inflicting a modest degree of marital neglect.

Duveen Portrait

In the broader view, what makes the Gross collection so special? Experienced philatelists can fully appreciate where Bill Gross stands in the pantheon of great stamp collectors, but I wish to explain it to those who might not know enough to judge the importance of this collection and the items it contains. This also gives me a chance to present my Wave Theory of stamp collecting—there have been five waves, and the sixth is starting.

The William H. Gross collection is the product of 25 years of diligent collecting, virtually unlimited resources, and the wise decision to listen to knowledgeable advice about rarity, quality and opportunity. In the past, great collections were formed with the help of professionals—Warren Colson, Eugene Klein, Ezra Cole and the Weill brothers, to name a few American dealers. In the future, the name Shreve will be inextricably associated with the Gross collection.Hind Portrait

As any serious collector in any area will attest, there is always a critical moment when the stars and planets align, and an opportunity arises, requiring a carpe opportunitatem decision. For Bill Gross, it was Christie’s sale of the Ishikawa collection in 1993. Over two days, he acquired lots totaling nearly $2 million in value, including the 5¢ 1847 Lord Crawford block and the 10¢ 1847 Bible block (lots 13 and 14 in this sale). From then on, whenever an important collection or item was available, there was a good chance Bill Gross would authorize the Shreves to attempt to acquire it, and they often succeeded.

Caspary Portrait

Therefore, the years from 1993 to 2018 will go down in history as the Gross Era, when his determination and means exerted a gravitational pull on many of the greatest items in American philately. This occurred during the period I call the Fifth Wave—I will explain this concept.

As philately evolved into a serious pursuit, from the late 1800s through World War I—the First Wave—the largest and most valuable stamp collections were international in scope and concentrated in the hands of a few titans of collecting. The biggest titan of them all was Philipp von Ferrary. His ownership of thousands of rarities across scores of countries defined the First Wave as the Ferrary Era.Phillips Portrait

During this period, there were others who formed major collections, and their names will be found in this catalogue: Ackerman, Ayer, Lord Crawford, Crocker, Duveen, Thorne and Worthington. But these collectors had to collect in Ferrary’s world, which limited the availability of many outstanding items. Private sales through dealers were far more significant than auction sales at this time, and it was access to material through dealers that gave these collectors the opportunity to build important collections in competition with Ferrary. Additionally, during the First Wave, many wonderful discoveries were being made, as a new generation of dealers searched the world for hidden philatelic treasures. Many of these were snapped up by collectors other than Ferrary. The 24¢ 1869 Invert block (lot 89) was found around 1888 and sold to Thorne. The 10¢ 1847 Bible block was discovered around 1910 and sold to Gibson. The 90¢ Newbury Lilly Portraitcover (lot 50) was bought by Ernest Jacobs from the addressee’s heirs in 1912. These iconic items come from the last great period of philatelic discovery, which for the most part ended just after World War I.

Beginning in 1917, there was a great turnover in major collections. Worthington’s was sold in 1917. Three years after Duveen’s death in 1919, his collection was dispersed through private sales. Ferrary died in 1917, and four years later his massive collection was sold in a series of auctions. These sales of important worldwide collections formed before World War I started the Second Wave, in which collecting took place on an unprecedented scale, with even more participants and capital investment. Collectors such as King George V, Burrus, Caspary, Emerson, Gibson, Green, Hind, Lapham, Lichtenstein and Newbury dominated the SecondIshikawa Portrait Wave, which began to wind down during and after World War II. Lichtenstein’s death in 1947 removed him from the market. Caspary’s worldwide collection was sold immediately after his death in 1955. Around this time, the Third Wave commenced as a new generation of collectors and dealers began to dominate the market, especially for United States material. Benjamin D. Phillips, Philip G. Rust, John R. Boker, Jr., and Josiah K. Lilly, Jr., were the major forces in this post-war period, and no dealer dominated the market more than Raymond and Roger Weill.

In the late 60s and 70s, material from these great collections started to enter the market, beginnZoellner Portraiting the Fourth Wave. Among the collectors of United States ready to acquire key items was Ryohei Ishikawa, a wealthy Japanese businessman who collected stamps and competed in international exhibitions. The German billionaire, Erivan Haub, also started building his U.S. and German States collections. The Fourth Wave began winding down toward the end of the 80s, when the sale of the Weills’ stock occurred, and it officially ended with the start of the Fifth Wave in 1993, when the Ishikawa collection was sold.

Now, with the sale of the Gross collection, we start what I call the Sixth Wave, presenting new collectors with an opportunity to establish their own immortal collections.