For several years, collectors have been asking us over and over, “when is Bill Gross going to sell his U.S.?”
Well, the answer is now.
Earlier auctions of Great Britain, British Commonwealth, Western Europe, Scandinavia, Confederate States, Switzerland and Hawaii have generated more than $26 million, all of which has been generously donated to worthy charitable organizations.
What remains of Mr. Gross’s collection is the heart of it — the United States stamps and covers. Beginning with the first sale of United States Stamp Treasures on Wednesday, October 3, 2018, all of it will ultimately be returned to the market.
This preview of highlights shows only the items from Sale One in October, and they are staggering in scope and importance. Later sales will continue to feed the market with multiples, covers and fancy cancellations, and the very last part to be offered will be the collection of singles in Mr. Gross’s Scott U.S. National Album.
It has always been Mr. Gross’s belief that he is a temporary curator of these magnificent Stamp Treasures. His desire is that others should now have the opportunity, honor and responsibility of becoming the new curators.
The memories of working closely with Bill Gross in forming this collection will continue with the process of finding new homes for each treasured item. We have no doubt that the availability of so much important material will stimulate the hobby and allow a new generation of collectors to assume the mantle of ownership.
Mr. Gross’s philatelic legacy is well-established, especially in his considerable financial support of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. As he continues his prominent role in the financial markets as Portfolio Manager of the Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond and Total Return Fund, his stamp collection will draw the attention of collectors worldwide.
These auctions also present a unique opportunity to make the general public aware of the fascinating history and true beauty of the greatest United States stamps and covers.
One might call it the opportunity of a lifetime.
...when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’
— Howard Carter, Tomb of Tutankhamen
The element of discovery is fundamental to collecting stamps. Rare objects unearthed during the formative years of philately — what Howard Carter, the discoverer of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, would call “wonderful things” — have been and continue to be the instantly recognizable icons of stamp collecting.
These iconic pieces are, at a minimum, extremely rare. In most cases, the item is unique in a significant and recognizable way. Almost without exception, iconic items were discovered among ordinary, everyday supplies of stamps or in files of routine letter correspondence. Some were even saved from a fiery fate.
The stories of discovery are legendary. A schoolboy rummaging through family papers in British Guiana found the odd-looking One-Cent Magenta. In France, another young collector was allowed to search old business files and stumbled across a letter bearing two “Post Office” Mauritius stamps. In the United States, a worker cleaning out a warehouse noticed a bundle of partly incinerated old letters, including one with a 2¢ Hawaiian Missionary. And, tucked into the pages of an old Virginia family’s bible was a perfectly preserved unused block of the 10¢ 1847 First Issue.
Remarkably, these and almost every other iconic item were discovered before World War I, and very few have been discovered since. This reflects the early interest in philately. By 1865, just 25 years after the world’s first stamps were issued in Great Britain, collectors and dealers began hunting for rarities. The first stamp auction was held in 1870. At the same time, new publications were reporting discoveries and the high prices paid for them. Anyone fortunate enough to find a philatelic rarity was greeted with a ready and eager market. The search was on.
This combination of the 150-year old interest in stamps and the financial incentive to search for rarities exhausted the potential for discoveries. The icons have maintained their rarity and prominence, and it is very unlikely that any will be supplanted by future finds.
As wealth accumulated during the Gilded Age and stamp collecting evolved from a casual pastime to a serious form of study, on a par with numismatics, the gravitational pull was in the direction of individuals of substantial means. The names of these early titans of stamp collecting are synonymous with iconic pieces: Ferrary, Tapling, the Earl of Crawford, King George V, Rothschild, Duveen, Hind, Worthington, Burrus, Crocker, Ackerman, Gibson, Lapham, Lichtenstein, Green and Caspary. When discoveries were made, invariably they were offered to one of these collectors. As each important collection was dispersed, the iconic pieces were acquired by the others or by the next generation of dominant collectors. At the forefront of collecting in the years after the Caspary sales in 1956-58 were John R. Boker, Jr., Benjamin D. Phillips (through the Weills of New Orleans), and Josiah K. Lilly, Jr.
These dominant collectors have been replaced by collectors who specialize exclusively in the iconic pieces of one country or at most a few countries, to a degree which the dominant collectors of world rarities did not. One of the foremost of the new breed is Mr. Gross, who concentrated on United States, although he included holdings of several other countries. Within the United States, he has assembled a truly astonishing number of iconic items, which have been passed down through generations. They are the treasures that are now becoming available.
What are the enduring qualities of philatelic icons that inspire collectors to covet them? What distinguishes iconic items from those that are simply rare? To find answers, it is useful to examine the three categories of iconic items: single stamps, multiples and covers (the collector term for a folded address sheet or envelope).
Single stamps — that is, one stamp, neither a multiple nor one attached to a cover — are iconic if the stamp is both very rare and a key issue of a major postal entity. The “Post Office” Mauritius stamps, the first issued by a British colony, are prime examples of iconic rarities that hold their own as single stamps. Another example is the unique British Guiana One-Cent Magenta, renowned as the “world’s most valuable” stamp for nearly a century (it was last sold in 2014 for approximately $9.5 million). A third example is the 2¢ Hawaiian Missionary and, in particular, the only known unused example.
A multiple — the collector term for an intact unit comprising more than one stamp — may be considered iconic if it is extremely rare or the largest multiple of an important stamp (or both). Certain relatively common stamps achieve iconic status in multiples. For example, the United States 10¢ 1847 is common as a used single and relatively rare as an unused single; however, as a unit of four or more, it becomes a great rarity. Thus, the 10¢ 1847 block of six in this preview — the largest of the three known unused blocks — instantly achieved iconic status after its discovery at the beginning of the 20th century.
Multiples of stamps that are very rare, even as singles, are an exalted class of iconic items. The 24¢ 1869 Inverted Center error block of four in this preview is one of the greatest discoveries ever made and world renowned as one of the most important items in philately. It was found in England in the 1880s, affixed to a package wrapper with two additional 24¢ invert stamps. The block was acquired by an early collector of multiples and displayed in 1897 at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolors in London. It remains the only extant block of any 1869 Inverted Center error, a stamp that every collector prizes in single form.
Finally, there are the covers, which fall into three sub-categories.
First, there are covers bearing stamps of great rarity, such as the “Post Office” Mauritius cover found by the French schoolboy or the 2¢ Hawaiian Missionary cover plucked from a bundle of charred paper.
Second, there are covers with stamps that are rarely found used, due to circumstances that limited their function or lifespan. A notable example is the 90¢ 1860 cover in this preview, one of the few in existence, because the issue’s life was shortened by the Civil War.
The third category of iconic covers does not necessarily involve rare stamps, but attains iconic status by virtue of usage. The impact of usage is embodied in the cover with United States and Canada First Issue stamps. It is an extraordinary combination of elements brought together by circumstance, and there is no other identical item known to philately.
This categorization of iconic items serves as a guide to the experienced philatelist and the collector of great things. In this preview of items to be offered in Sale One on Wednesday, October, 3 2018, the provenance and attributes of each one have been described. Many of the items qualify as truly iconic; or, at the very least, important.
All may be called, in a word, treasures.
Since their discovery in 1895, the two envelopes with the 5¢ red circular postmaster’s provisional of Annapolis, Maryland, remain the only examples known. They were found in the old correspondence files of the Carstairs firm in Philadelphia and were bought by the Burger Brothers, one of New York’s leading stamp dealers. The April 8 envelope was sold by the Burgers to Ferrary, and the March 20 envelope was sold to William A. Castle. Several years later it was acquired by the 26th Earl of Crawford. After passing through Caspary and Lapham, two major collectors of postmasters’ provisionals, the March 20 envelope found a home in the Frelinghuysen collection. Virtually unknown to the collecting world, the Frelinghuysen collection was unveiled in the 2012 auction held by the Siegel firm. It was in this sale that Mr. Gross acquired the Annapolis provisional.
Was the postmaster in Millbury, Massachusetts, inspired to design his own stamp after seeing one of the New York postmaster’s stamps on a letter? We can never know, but comparing the cartoon-like woodcut portrait of George Washington to the skillfully engraved design of the New York provisional, one wonders if imitation was at play. Lending support to this idea is the fact that, other than local New York issues, there were no stamps with Washington’s portrait in circulation in 1846, the year the Millbury post office printed its own. Apart from its distinctive design, the Millbury is notable for its great rarity — there are just nineteen known, and only eight are still on their covers. Of the stamps on cover, it is fair to say this is tied for first place in the contest of quality. With extra large margins surrounding the circular frame, the stamp is superb. This cover was discovered around 1896 by the niece of the addressee in Worcester, Massachusetts. It passed through the Dutcher and Lapham collections before entering the Frelinghuysen collection, which was long dormant until the 2012 Siegel auction, where the Millbury was acquired by Mr. Gross.
The St. Louis postmaster’s provisionals are called the “Bears,” in tribute to the design’s main element — the Great Seal of Missouri, incorporating two bears with the slogan “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” and the state’s motto in Latin (“Let the well-being of the people be the highest law”). The first large group of “Bears” was found in 1869, and additional finds were made in 1880 and 1889. In 1895 a huge group was found by a janitor in Louisville on letters addressed to Tyler & Rutherford, including multiples showing the unusual character of the engraved plate used to print the stamps in sheets of six (2 x 3) and proving the authenticity of the 20¢ stamps, which some had previously believed to be forgeries. It was shown that the plate was modified by reengraving “20” over two of the 5¢ stamps, then restoring the “5” for the next printing. Therefore, it is possible to find two different denominations joined together in multiples — “Twin Bears” if you will — and these rare se-tenant multiples are among the most desirable provisional stamps. The 20¢ and 10¢ pair below is one of two known, and the only one on cover.
The cover above and the 20¢-10¢ “Twin Bears” cover come from another large find of St. Louis provisional stamps, used on letters to the Philadelphia banking firm of Charnley & Whelen. This group first came to light in 1912 and provided some extraordinary covers. Since many of the stamps from previous finds had been removed from the covers for sale to collectors who wanted off-cover stamps, the Charnley & Whelen correspondence is the source of most of the outstanding covers in collectors’ hands today. The cover above is notable as the only surviving cover with a combination of two 5¢ on Gray Lilac paper (Scott 11X4) and the 20¢ on Gray Lilac (Scott 11X6). It is especially attractive, because the post office cancelled the stamps with the bright red circular datestamp and did not mark them with pen, as was customary at the St. Louis post office.
Imagine letting 80¢ go to waste in 1851. Indeed, that is the only way the magnificent block of sixteen 5¢ 1847 stamps survived. When new stamps were issued in 1851 to replace the 1847 First Issue, postal officials informed the public that the old 5¢ and 10¢ stamps would no longer be valid after a certain date, but they could be exchanged for new stamps for three months. After the exchange period, they would have no value (except as collectibles in a hobby that did not yet exist). By saving the block of sixteen, the original post office patron let 80¢ remain “invested” in the stamps, a significant sum considering the dollar’s purchasing power in 1851. Years later, probably around the turn of the century, the block was found and sold to the 26th Earl of Crawford. Known as the “Lord Crawford” block, it is the largest 1847 First Issue multiple to appear. More of the ownership history is given in the description of the 10¢ 1847 “Bible” block.
The 1847 Issue was devalued when it was replaced with the 1851 Issue, but unused 1847 stamps could be exchanged for the new issue for three months. Consequently, very few unused 1847 stamps were left in public hands. Only three unused 10¢ blocks are known, one of which resides in the Museum of Communications in Switzerland. The block of six shown above is the largest of the three, and it has a long and storied history. It was found between the pages of a bible owned by the Rives family of Virginia and Washington, D.C., which probably explains how it survived — it was forgotten. Upon its discovery, sometime before 1912, the block was bought by Scott Stamp and Coin Company. It was sold in a June 1912 auction to Henry C. Gibson, who formed one of the greatest collections of the 1847 Issue. When Gibson’s 1847 collection was sold privately, the 10¢ block was purchased by Philip H. Ward, Jr., and joined the “Lord Crawford” 5¢ 1847 block of sixteen. After Ward’s estate was sold in 1963, the Weills placed both blocks with their secret client, Benjamin D. Phillips, and the blocks remained under the Weills’ control until Ryohei Ishikawa bought them privately around 1978. Mr. Gross acquired both blocks in the 1993 sale of the Ishikawa collection.
The most outstanding covers have multi-faceted appeal. The famous 1847 “Beaver” cover shown above presents the stamp collector with something extraordinary — a strip of the 5¢ 1847 used with the Canada 3-pence “Beaver” First Issue — and it is also steeped in history. The cover was mailed in May 1851 from Canada to Great Britain, addressed to the Rev. Egerton Ryerson, Superintendent of Schools for Upper Canada and a prominent figure in Canadian history. To cross the Atlantic, the cover had to travel over the border to New York City, where it made the scheduled sailing of the Cunard steamship Asia. At this time, the United States and Canada had an agreement that provided for the exchange of mail based on one rate of postage paid at origin. However, in this unusual circumstance, the sender affixed a “Beaver” stamp for Canadian postage, and applied the strip of the 5¢ 1847 First Issue to pay the U.S. 24¢ transatlantic postage. This is the only such “mixed franking” (stamps of two countries) with the 1847 Issue and Canadian stamps on a cover sent beyond the borders of the United States. In the sale catalogue for the 1944 Gibson collection, it was described as “the most important 1847 5¢ cover known.”
International competition and protectionism influenced the postal relations between the United States and Great Britain during the 19th century. The heavily subsidized transatlantic packet services, which carried mail on regularly scheduled steamship sailings, triggered a “postal war” between the two countries. It began when British authorities imposed a penalty on letters received from American vessels, in an effort to undermine the new U.S. steamship line. In retaliation, U.S. postal authorities imposed a similar penalty. While this went on, the public was forced to pay double postage on letters between the United States and Great Britain, including letters from the U.S. to other countries that had to pass through British ports. The dispute was eventually resolved, but while it ensued the 1847 First Issue was in use. Only a few “Retaliatory Rate” covers with 1847 stamps are known, and one of the most spectacular examples is the cover to Belgium with the 5¢ and a strip of 10¢ stamps. It is a unique cover that was once part of the collection of Sir Nicholas Waterhouse, of Price Waterhouse fame.
The blue 1¢ Franklin stamp issued from 1851 to 1861 was printed from plates numbered 1 through 12. The printer — Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Company — experienced difficulty making the plates due to the large size of the design. In an effort to manufacture a satisfactory product, the printers experimented with a variety of design modifications to the plates, essentially erasing or omitting portions of the outer ornaments. In doing so, they unintentionally created variations in the printed images that future collectors would examine, classify, and list by number in the Scott Catalogue. Certain types with their own catalogue number are very rare, and even rarer are blocks containing the elusive Scott-listed types. For example, there is only one known block with Type Ia (Scott 6), which has the complete bottom part of the design. This block, with original gum, has been part of a long list of famous collections, dating back to the Arthur Hind collection sold in 1933. It was acquired by Mr. Gross in the 1998 Siegel auction of the Robert Zoellner collection.
Although first day covers became a popular collecting area and source of revenue for the post office in the 1920s, there was neither fanfare nor souvenir creation when new issues were released in earlier years. Covers with stamps used on their first day of issue in the period from 1847 through 1922 are extremely rare or, in many cases, completely unknown. The Gross collection has a significant number of important first day covers, including the one shown below, which has a clear strike of the red Boston postmark dated July 1, 1851, the first day of the 1851 Issue. Adding to the importance of this cover is the presence of a 1¢ Franklin stamp, which paid the rate for a printed circular. And, elevating this cover to iconic status is the fact that the stamp is one of the rarest of the 1¢ types — Type Ib (Scott 5A), from the first plate used to print the 1¢ stamps.
Since its discovery in the 19th century, the 5¢ 1856 Imperforate block has remained the only known unused block of this issue. When the collection assembled by Frederick W. Ayer was dispersed through private sales between 1897 and 1904, the block was acquired by the famous art dealer and stamp collector, Henry J. Duveen. After Duveen’s collection was sold in 1922, the block was owned by a string of prominent collectors, landing with Benjamin D. Phillips, the Weills’ secret client. Following Phillips’s death in 1968 and the Weills’ acquisition of his collection for $4.07 million, the unique block appeared in the Siegel 1969 Rarities sale. A decade later, it was in the hands of Ryohei Ishikawa and became one of the cornerstones of his award-winning exhibit. At the 1993 sale of the Ishikawa collection, the successful bidder was Frederick R. Mayer, a Denver businessman and art collector who specialized in the 5¢ 1856 Issue. When the Mayer collection was sold in a 2005 auction, Mr. Gross obtained the block, which is one of the most important multiples of the classic period.
A new stamp’s denomination usually corresponds to a prevailing postage rate. The 1847 5¢ and 10¢ stamps paid the standard domestic letter rates. When those rates were reduced in 1851, the new stamps were issued in 1¢, 3¢ and 12¢ denominations. In 1855 a 10¢ stamp was added to cover the new rate for letters to and from the West Coast. In 1856 a 5¢ stamp was issued with a portrait of Thomas Jefferson — this Founding Father’s debut on a stamp — but there was no stated or obvious purpose for a 5¢ value, leaving future philatelists to guess postal officials’ intentions. The stamp found a few useful purposes, mainly on letters addressed to other countries — its typical usage is on a cover to France. Surprisingly, there is only one intact cover to Great Britain with the 5¢ 1856, despite the large volume of mail between the two countries and the abundance of covers with other issues. It is addressed to a member of the Chivas whisky-distilling family in Scotland. Instead of using a pair of 12¢ stamps or a combination with 10¢ stamps to make up the 24¢ treaty rate, the sender affixed two 5¢ pairs with the 1¢ and 3¢, creating what is widely regarded as one of the most outstanding classic covers extant.
One can only imagine what was inside the package mailed from the Gold Rush town of Columbia, California, in January 1857, which required at least 21 times the 10¢ per half-ounce rate. The sender cut out a block of 21 from the upper left corner of the sheet, and the Columbia postmaster neatly struck his postmark ten times to cancel every stamp. The survival of this block, especially in its flawless condition, defies all odds. When the block first appeared at auction in 1922, the catalogue stated, “condition so remarkable that the most hardened critic succumbs to its charm and is lost in wonder, love and praise.” In the 1956 Caspary sale, the block fetched a staggering $7,250. It later became one of the star pieces in the collection formed by Robert Lehman, scion of the banking family. Around 1978 the block was acquired by Ryohei Ishikawa, and when the Ishikawa collection was sold at auction in 1993, Mr. Gross was the successful bidder.
Another “triple-threat” cover in the Gross collection is this one to Sweden with 42¢ postage paid by a superb strip of the imperforate 10¢ 1855 and single 12¢ 1851 Issue. Not only is Sweden a rarely seen destination on covers from the classic era, but the 10¢ strip contains one of the most desirable types — Type IV (Scott 16). Stamp collectors value Type IV above all others, because it shows the lines of the design reengraved at the top or bottom — or, in just one position, both top and bottom. The Type IV in this strip is the rare “double recut.” All of these elements combine to create one of the most beautiful covers with the 1851-56 Imperforate issue. It was a highlight of the Mortimer L. Neinken and Louis Grunin collections, and in the 1998 Siegel sale of the Robert Zoellner collection, it became one of Mr. Gross’s prized acquisitions.
In the 1917 auction of the magnificent collection formed by George H. Worthington, this unique unused block of the 5¢ Brick Red realized $910, more than double its catalogue value at the time. From Worthington the block followed a familiar path for iconic classic U.S. blocks — Hind, Sinkler, Ward, Phillips and the Weills up to 1983. Mr. Gross acquired the block in the 2009 Siegel sale of the Whitman collection, and once again it realized more than twice its catalogue value. Why is this particular block so rare and desirable? Because the Brick Red shade of the 5¢ Jefferson comes from just one printing, issued only with perforations. The color was probably the result of an ink-mixture error, since it looks nothing like the other 5¢ shades printed from 1856 through 1861. An unused single is a rare stamp, and apart from this unique unused block, there is only one used block.
Sheets and blocks of classic stamps were unlikely to remain intact when they could be used on mail, and the chances of survival were greatly diminished when collectors started demanding singles for their stamp albums. This is why large blocks such as this spectacular 10¢ 1859 plate block of 42 are great rarities. Not only is it the largest block of the 10¢ Type V (Scott 35), it has the sheet selvage with the full imprint and plate number at left. This fantastic artifact of the antebellum period was one of key pieces in the Mortimer L. Neinken and John Chapin collections. Mr. Gross acquired it and other important classic plate number multiples when he bought the Chapin collection privately.
In the 1850s there were only two ways to send a letter to and from California: on ocean steamships that linked with the routes across Panama or Nicaragua; or by stagecoach over the pioneer wagon roads that crossed the western half of the continent. As the West Coast’s population grew, the financial and political influencers tried to rally support to build a transcontinental railroad that would increase the speed of mail, encourage westward migration, and also increase the value of land along the route, a bonus that was certainly not lost on the railroad advocates and land speculators. One of the means used to rally public and government support for the railroad was the propaganda envelope. The standard route designation, “Per Overland Mail Stage, Via Los Angeles,” has a small line below that reads “In hope of the,” below which is a steaming locomotive passing by a town on the hill. These wonderful artifacts of the Gold Rush era are usually addressed to the East Coast. In this very rare instance, the cover was mailed to Germany.
Why was a 90¢ stamp necessary in 1860, and what are the reasons for its great rarity on covers? Its purpose was to pay high rates on heavy domestic letters or mail to foreign countries. The relatively low demand for a stamp worth nearly a dollar was compounded by a shortened lifespan. When the Civil War started, postal officials demonetized all stocks of circulating stamps, which helped prevent the rebel states from cashing in on their supplies. For these reasons, only a small quantity was used and only seven covers bearing the 90¢ 1860 are known. The cover addressed to the Cape of Good Hope is considered to be one of the icons of the classic period. Ashbrook, an authority on U.S. classics, called it “the finest 90¢ 1860 cover known to philately.” It was found in 1912 by Ernest R. Jacobs in the Howland family’s papers and sold to Judge Robert S. Emerson. When the Emerson collection was dispersed, it was bought by Saul Newbury. At Siegel’s 1961 sale of the Newbury collection, the Weills acquired the cover for Benjamin D. Phillips. The “Newbury” cover, as it then became known, was offered in the 1971 Rarities sale and bought by Ryohei Ishikawa for his 1¢ 1851-61 collection. He retained it for his Grand Prix exhibit that followed, and Mr. Gross acquired the cover when the Ishikawa collection was sold in 1993.
The Pony Express operated for only a year and a half, but it created a Wild West legacy lasting generations. One of the three Pony Express founders, William H. Russell, signed this Stebbins Line telegram envelope to the “Stagecoach King” Ben Holladay and marked it “Free” to waive the $5 express charge. It left on the trip to California from St. Joseph, Missouri, on May 6, 1860. By the time the Pony Express rider reached Ruby Valley in Nevada, about one week later, the war between Paiute Indians and local settlers had started. On May 12 the Paiute warriors under Chief Numaga killed scores of a hastily organized militia at the First Battle of Pyramid Lake. Soon after this cover passed through the war zone, Indian attacks on stations along the express route shut down or disrupted Pony Express service for months. This cover from the company’s president to the man who would eventually buy out the financially strapped Pony Express owners was one of the last to make it safely to California before hostilities closed the route. It was once part of the outstanding collections formed by Robert S. Emerson and Edward S. Knapp, and Mr. Gross acquired it in Siegel’s 1994 sale of the “Concord” collection (Dr. Charles E. Test).
In May 1861 there was news so urgent that a young man in California spent an extra $2 to send a letter to his relatives in Prince Edward Island by Pony Express. The sender was probably John McFadyen, and the envelope he sent to Angus McFadyen in 1861 survives today as the only known Pony Express cover to Prince Edward Island — in fact, of all the Pony covers known, there are only six to countries beyond the U.S., and only four of these have a Horse-and-Rider Pony Express stamp. The existence of this cover was rumored for decades. In 2004 it made its first and only appearance in the market in the auction of the legendary Pony Express collection formed by Alfred F. Lichtenstein, who was president of the firm that merged to become the pharmaceutical giant Ciba-Geigy. In that auction, Mr. Gross acquired this unique cover and the famous “Stolen by Indians” cover currently on exhibit at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
The Southern rebellion forced the federal post office to demonetize the circulating supply of stamps and issue a replacement series. New dies, plates and stamps were manufactured by the National Bank Note Company in 1861. The first stamps printed were from plates made from die designs that were later changed, or in shades that were adjusted for the regular issue. The resulting stamps are known to collectors as the First Designs and Colors. They were not distributed to post offices, with one exception — the 10¢ stamp, which has a few obvious differences between the First Design (Type I) and the second die design (Type II). The 10¢ First Design was printed from plate number 4 in the series (1¢, 3¢, 5¢, 10¢ and so on), and the quantity of sheets printed from Plate 4 was miniscule in comparison to the regular Type II printings (perhaps 2% of the total production). Only one 10¢ 1861 multiple is known that shows the imprint with “No. 4.” As if the imprint and plate number were not enough to attract collector interest, the lower left stamp in the block comes from the one position on the plate that has traces of an erased engraving — of the 90¢ design! This unique plate block was found by Philip H. Ward, Jr., and sold to Benjamin D. Phillips in 1964 after Ward’s estate was bought by the Weills. It was later acquired by Stephen D. Bechtel, of Bechtel Corporation fame. It was purchased in the 1993 Rarities sale by John Chapin, whose entire collection of classic plate number multiples was bought by Mr. Gross.
The 24¢ 1861 comes in a variety of shades ranging from a deep brownish purple shade — the color of an aged red Bordeaux — to a very distinctive cold bluish gray, which has its own name (Steel Blue) and Scott Catalogue number (70b). Examples of the Steel Blue are scarce and quite desirable, even as used singles. They are rare in unused condition, especially with original gum. As for multiples, only two unused blocks survive, both with original gum (four stamps in one and six in the other). Apart from those blocks, there is just one other unused multiple — the corner-margin pair with original gum. The centering and condition of the stamps in this pair are truly remarkable. At one time in the past, the pair was probably joined with the top sheet-margin block of four that was divided into singles after 1974. There is no record of this pair prior to the 1982 Rarities sale, and it was certified by experts in England and Italy in the 1960s, which indicates it was owned by an overseas collector or dealer at that time. Walter C. Klein acquired the pair in the 1982 Rarities sale, and when the Klein collection was dispersed in 1988, Robert Drucker and his sons were the buyers. At the 2003 Siegel sale of the Druckers’ collection, Mr. Gross was the buyer.
Charitable fairs were held during the Civil War to raise money for the privately operated United States Sanitary Commission, which provided relief to sick and wounded soldiers. The Great Central Fair was held in June 1864 in a 20,000 square foot exhibition hall in Philadelphia. President Lincoln supported the event by donating 48 autographed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation that were sold to raise money. Engraved charity stamps were also sold for use on envelopes containing messages delivered to attendees within the fair grounds. In a few cases, the envelopes were additionally stamped with postage for mailing. This illustrated Great Central Fair cover depicts a wounded soldier being treated on the battlefield. The 10¢ Eagle stamp at lower left was affixed and cancelled with the special fair postmark, and the stamp at upper right paid regular postage. Only four covers are known with Great Central Fair stamps used in combination with U.S. stamps, and this is the only one with the Great Central Fair design. The cover was once part of George Walcott’s collection, sold at auction in 1935. It was acquired by Elliott Perry and later sold to Marjorie and Bob Kantor, who authored the definitive book on Sanitary Fair postal history. Their collection was sold through Siegel in 1995, where this combination cover was acquired by Mr. Gross.
This colorful folded letter to a French noble family in Paris originated in New Orleans on August 7, 1861, and was carried by Adams Express Company between Nashville on the Confederate side to Louisville on the U.S. side. It arrived in Louisville just a few days before the termination date for all mail exchanged between the North and South, and also at the point when federal post offices commenced demonetization of old stamps. For only a brief period — certainly no greater than one week — it was possible for a 30¢ 1861 stamp to be used on an express cover carried across the lines of war. This cover was one of the most important items in Robert Paliafito’s 30¢ 1861 collection. When the Siegel firm sold the Barry K. Schwartz collection in 2009, Mr. Gross was successful in acquiring the cover.
The hand-carved “fancy” cancellations used in various post offices during the mid-19th century are a unique form of American folk art. John W. Hill, the postmaster of Waterbury, Connecticut, was the most prolific and talented of the postmasters who carved pictorial cancels. Two of Postmaster Hill’s imaginative carvings are shown here: the Man Smoking Pipe and Elephant.
With the acquisition of the John Chapin collection of classic U.S. plate number multiples, Mr. Gross took a quantum leap in advancing his collection toward greatness. The Chapin collection contained two of the most important classic U.S. plate blocks extant — the 15¢ and 24¢ 1868 F Grill issues (Scott 98 and 99) in plate blocks of eight with the full National Bank Note Company imprints and plate numbers 41 and 6. Each one is the only known plate block of eight.
The 15¢ and 24¢ plate number blocks were together in the Benjamin D. Phillips collection when the Weills acquired it in 1968. The Weills were Phillips’s agents in the 1954 sale of the Amos Eno collection, in which the 24¢ plate block was featured (it had previously been in the Worthington collection). The 15¢ was once part of the Ward block collection and was sold to Phillips in 1964. The blocks then went different ways, but were reunited in the Chapin collection after he bought the 15¢ in the 1975 Rarities sale, followed by the 24¢ in the 1983 Rarities sale. The Gross sale will be the first time the two plate blocks have appeared together in the same auction.
The Post Office took a radical turn away from tradition when it issued the new 1869 Pictorial stamps. Instead of following the portrait theme of the previous issues, seven of the ten 1869 designs had symbolic or historical images. Three showed modes of mail transportation — a post rider and horse, a locomotive and the steamship Adriatic. Two high values had engravings based on oil paintings in the Capitol — Vanderlyn’s Landing of Columbus and Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence — and two depicted the eagle and shield patriotic symbol. Another innovation was bicolored printing for the four top values. Despite the creativity and skill of the designers and engravers, the 1869 Pictorial stamps were criticized and replaced after just one year. Blocks of the bicolored stamps are among the most highly prized items in philately, and the block of six of the 15¢ Type I (Scott 118) shown here is not only rare, it is the finest known multiple of this scarce stamp. It was bought by Alfred H. Caspary in the 1933 Hind sale; when Caspary’s 1869s were sold in 1956, the catalogue described this block as a “magnificent block and a great showpiece’ and “one of the most outstanding 1869 items known.” The Weills bought the block for Benjamin D. Phillips in the Caspary sale and later sold it to Stephen D. Bechtel, of Bechtel Corporation fame. The private sale of items from the Bechtel collection in 1993 gave Robert Zoellner the opportunity to acquire the block, and in the 1998 Zoellner sale, Mr. Gross was the winning bidder.
The 24¢ Inverted Center block was the featured item in the historic 1938 auction of the collection formed by William H. Crocker, president of Crocker National Bank. The sale preview, written by Fred J. Melville, one of the leading experts and authors of the time, described the block as “one of the most wonderful of all the surprising survivals in philatelic material.” A color photo — unusual for that era — displayed the block on the cover of the sale catalogue.
The block’s discovery has been traced to Liverpool, England, during the 1880s or early 1890s, when it was found on a package wrapper with two other invert error stamps. The discoverer, the “Upside Down Man,” sold his find to a local vest-pocket stamp dealer, who in turn sold it for £5 ($25) to Thomas Ridpath, a Liverpool dealer who later negotiated the sale of another unique item, the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta. From Ridpath the block made a transatlantic journey to New York City, where it was acquired by William Thorne, a wealthy figure in business circles and the second president of the Collectors Club of New York. Thorne was one of the first to collect stamps in blocks. He exhibited his block collection in 1897 at the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolors in London, then around 1900 sold it to A. W. Batchelder, of the New England Stamp Co., probably with Warren H. Colson as the company’s agent. Crocker was one of the firm’s most valued clients. He started collecting in 1884 and, by the turn of the century, had assembled a major worldwide holding. The block was the crown jewel of his collection.
The 1938 Crocker auction was held in London. A transatlantic telephone line was set up for Y. Souren, a major New York City stamp dealer. The block sold to Souren for approximately $12,000 (in sterling), and the first use of a transatlantic telephone to bid drew enormous press coverage. Fox Movietone News, newspapers and magazines (Life, Newsweek, The New Yorker) told the story of Souren’s innovative use of the new technology. It is well-known stamp lore that Souren kept the block between two glass plates, fitted for his jacket pocket, and enjoyed flashing his prize to anyone who might be interested. Souren sold the block to a prominent collector, Esmond Bradley Martin, for $25,000, but Martin decided to sell the block back to Souren after a brief time. Souren found another buyer in Leslie White, a Connecticut industrialist, who kept the block until 1949, when he sold his entire collection to the Weills. The block was quickly sold to Benjamin D. Phillips for $24,000. After the Weills purchased the Phillips collection in 1968 for $4.07 million, they sold the block in 1974 to a collector in Texas whose identity is unknown. They bought the Texas collection in 1976 and displayed the block at lnterphil ‘76 in the Aristocrats of Philately section.
When Ryohei Ishikawa embarked on building a Grand Prix U.S. collection, the first pieces he acquired as cornerstones were the 5¢ and 10¢ 1847 blocks and the 24¢ Inverted Center block. At the 1993 Ishikawa sale, the Siegel firm bought the block and held it for three years, then sold it privately to Steven Walske. After the Walske 1869 collection was dispersed in 2003, the block was sold to Mr. Gross.
The postal agreement between the United States and France expired in 1870, leaving the public without any way to fully prepay postage on letters. In each instance, the sender and recipient had to pay a share of the postage — an inconvenience for correspondents and a cumbersome procedure for postal administrations. There are a few exceptions, in which the sender affixed stamps of the country of origin and added the receiving country’s stamps to eliminate the need to collect postage from the addressee. The cover shown above is one of these rare — and extraordinarily beautiful — exceptions. It was sent from New York to Bordeaux on a French steamer. The 10¢ 1869 stamp at upper right paid the U.S. rate to France. On the French end, the two Napoleon stamps, affixed at origin, paid the postage that would have been collected from the addressee. With its multi-faceted appeal, this ranks among the most desirable classic transatlantic covers extant.
Covers to Japan with the 1869 Pictorial Issue are very rare, and only three are known with the bicolored 30¢ stamp. All three come from the same group addressed to the silk trading firm of Thorel & Co. in Yokohama. Charles Thorel was one of many western merchants doing business in Japan after the 1858 Harris Treaty formalized commercial relations. Some of the letters came to light as far back as the 1920s; others surfaced later. This folded letter shows an interesting quirk of the complex international mail system in effect in the 1860s. The sender wrote instructions at upper left to send the letter on the Marseilles route, which saved considerable transit time, but cost more. He paid the 42¢ “via Marseilles” premium rate, but the New York foreign-mail clerk accidently struck the “26” red marking, instead of “32,” indicating that Great Britain would receive 26¢ from the postage paid, instead of 32¢. The British office refused to use the faster and more costly Marseilles route, because of the reduced credit, and sent it by the slower route. This unusual “error” cover was in the Henry C. Gibson and Ryohei Ishikawa collections. It was acquired by Mr. Gross in the 1997 Siegel sale of the Jon Rose 1869 collection.
Sheets of 4¢ Columbian stamps printed in blue instead of ultramarine were discovered at the time of issue by a Cleveland stamp collector, John Vickers Painter. The find was reported in a January 1895 stamp publication, and some of the error stamps from Painter and other sources started to reach the market shortly thereafter. As modern technology has shown, the deep blue ink of the 4¢ error contains Prussian Blue, the same pigment used for the 1¢ Columbian, but does not have any Ultramarine, the pigment normally used to print 4¢ stamps. Two 4¢ Blue strips of four with the imprint and plate numbers — D17 and D18 — were the only plate number multiples known until a large block surfaced in recent years. This strip is a deep shade and extremely well-centered; the other strip is a bit off center. When this strip was offered in a 1966 auction, it was purchased by the Weills for Benjamin D. Phillips. After the Weills bought the Phillips collection in 1968 for $4.07 million, the strip remained in the Weills’ orbit for nearly three decades. Mr. Gross acquired it in a private sale.
All examples of this striking error, in which all of the horizontal rows of perforations are completely missing, come from one pane of 50, discovered by Robert Watts, a postal employee in Philadelphia. Watts found the pane between the wrapping paper of a bundle of stamps and sold it for double face value ($8) to Herman Lewis, a local locksmith. Lewis immediately sold the entire pane to William S. F. Pierce, who broke it into three pieces: a vertical strip of ten with sheet margin and full arrow at right, a block of 20 containing both plate blocks, and another block of 20 with the straight edge at left. The block of 20 with both plate numbers was retained by Pierce, who later sold the top and bottom plate blocks to A. W. Batchelder of the New England Stamp Co. This bottom plate number block appeared in the collections formed by Col. Green, Eno, Hetherington and Kobacker. It was purchased by Harry “Sonny” Hagendorf in the 1991 Kobacker auction and sold to Lewis Kaufman, acting as agent for a collector. Hagendorf subsequently repurchased the block and sold it to Mr. Gross.
The entire supply of the 1898 $2 Trans-Mississippi Exposition commemorative stamp, depicting the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, was printed in one day. The high denomination was too much for most collectors, and sales were disappointing. In the early days of plate block collecting, it was customary to collect Trans-Mississippi plate blocks in units of four. Only later did collectors start looking for plate blocks of six, three across, with the imprint above the center stamp. By then, most of the supply had been reduced to smaller units. Today, there are just two known $2 multiples of six or more with sheet selvage showing the imprint and number. One is a block of 25 from the lower right corner, and the other is this top-margin plate block of six in the Gross collection. It was part of the “Ambassador” collection, so named because the stamps were kept in an Ambassador stamp album, which was sold by Siegel in 1966. The plate block was purchased by the Weills and later sold to Arthur J. Kobacker, a Columbus, Ohio, entrepreneur whose collection boasted not one, but two Inverted Jenny blocks. In the 1991 Kobacker sale, the Weills bought the plate block for Dr. Charles E. Test, whose 20th century holding was sold in a 1994 auction under the name “Westport.” Mr. Gross was the buyer.
Prior to 1976, the existence of this huge block of 20 of 1¢ Pan-American Inverted Center stamps was unknown to anyone, except perhaps the family of the collector who owned it when he died in 1951. Originally bought from Warren H. Colson, the block was hidden in a bank vault in Boston until the Weills acquired it 25 years after the collector’s death. It made its philatelic debut in 1976 in the Aristocrats of Philately exhibit at Interphil ‘76. The Weills later placed it with their exclusive client, Dr. Charles E. Test, whose 20th century stamps were sold in a 1994 auction as the “Westport” collection. The block was acquired by Mr. Gross in that sale. Other than the original sheet of 24¢ Inverted Jenny stamps, the large block of the $1 Candleholder “C.I.A.” Invert and the two panes of the 29¢ Stock Exchange Invert, there has never been a multiple of this size of any postage stamp invert error — today, it is probably the largest to remain intact.
The 4¢ 1908 Imperforate stamp (Scott 314A) on this cover is truly extraordinary. To appreciate its rarity and exceptional quality, it is helpful to understand the circumstances of its creation. 10,000 imperforate 4¢ 1902 stamps in sheets of 400 were delivered to the Schermack Mailing Machine Co. in Detroit in May 1908. The entire supply was cut into coils with hyphen-hole Schermack perforations designed for the firm's patented affixing machine, and delivered to the Winfield Printing Co. for use on mass mailings of advertising material. Most of the supply had been used, but one person succeeded in acquiring 50 stamps from Winfield Co. — a Detroit collector named Karl Koslowski. He used some of the stamps on covers to friends and himself, and sold the rest. Only four covers are known today, including three involving Koslowski. He sent a parcel to his brother in Sicklerville, N.J., using a strip of three, and asked him to mail this cover back to Detroit. For this self-addressed cover, Koslowski chose a perfectly centered example with left sheet margin. It was sold at auction in 1911 and acquired by George H. Worthington, then passed through several collections. Mr. Gross purchased the cover in the 1997 sale of the Dr. Agris collection.
This very ordinary looking cover is far from that. When the Post Office experimented with manufacturing rolls of coiled stamps in 1908, they created one of the rarest of all stamps — the 2¢ “Shield” vertical coil (Scott 321). Only six examples are known — four unused pairs, one single on a cover with other stamps removed (the envelope has not surfaced in more than four decades), and the single on an intact cover in the Gross collection. This cover was mailed from Indianapolis in October 1908, exactly when and where the 2¢ vertical coils were briefly available. The cover was hidden in a collection formed before World War II by a collector in California. He bought it privately from a San Francisco dealer and certainly knew it was rare and valuable, but the cover’s existence was never made known. In 1993 it was sold to Robert Zoellner in a private transaction, and when the Zoellner collection was sold by Siegel in 1998, Mr. Gross was the winning bidder.
This remarkable unused 2¢ Hawaiian Missionary appeared in the first sale of the Ferrary collection, held in Paris in 1921, when it was described “probablement le plus bel exemplaire qui existe de ce timbre” (probably the most beautiful example of this stamp that exists). The winning bidder at the Ferrary auction was Maurice Burrus, an Alsatian tobacco magnate, who paid the U.S. dollar equivalent of $14,700 — the highest price ever for a single stamp at that time. By comparison, in subsequent Ferrary sales the Swedish 3-Skilling Banco Yellow color error was sold for $3,095, the Baden 9-Kreuzer Blue-Green color error on cover sold for $8,087, and an unused Mauritius One-Penny “Post Office” realized $9,733. Each of these world-renowned rarities is worth millions today.
When this 2¢ Missionary was featured in Life magazine’s 1954 spread, “World’s Rarest Stamps,” it was valued at $20,000. Burrus’s massive collection was dispersed after his death in numerous auctions in the 1960s, and the Hawaii was sold in 1963. At that sale the stamp soared to the world record price of $41,000. The successful bidders, Raymond and Roger Weill, wrote at the time of the acquisition that the stamp was “one of the two or three sound copies of an extremely rare stamp, unique in unused condition, intriguing through ancestry, issued by an American postmaster for what is now the 50th state in the union, and almost certain to realize a record price for single stamp.”
The record sale was reported extensively in the news media, but nowhere so imaginatively as in Life magazine, which devoted a full page in color to proclaim, “This, pound for pound, is the most valuable substance on earth.” Weighing in at a mere two-thousandths of an ounce, troy, its value was calculated at $1,195,833,395.61 per pound.
The unused 2¢ Missionary was purchased by the Weills for their secret client, Benjamin D. Phillips, and it joined the unique “Dawson” 2¢ Missionary cover they bought for Phillips at the 1956 Caspary sale. These two stellar rarities were sold several years later to Alfred J. Ostheimer III and Thurston Twigg-Smith. In the 1995 Siegel sale of the Honolulu Advertiser collection, the unused 2¢ sold for $600,000. It was acquired privately by Mr. Gross a few years later.
Although Hawaii was a sovereign nation in 1851, when the Missionary stamps were issued, the fact remains that the postmaster, Henry M. Whitney, was an American, and the Honolulu post office was closely tied to the U.S. post office in San Francisco. Its prominent position in the first sale of United States Stamp Treasures from the Gross collection is a fitting tribute to the stamp’s importance.
There is a story about this stamp that is probably apocryphal, but nonetheless entertaining. Prior to Ferrary’s ownership, the stamp is said to have been owned by a Parisian collector named Gaston Leroux. The story continues that Leroux was murdered by an envious philatelic colleague, who coveted the 2¢ Missionary and later confessed to killing Leroux to obtain it.
The Hawaiian Missionary earned Hollywood fame in another murder-mystery story when the motion picture Charade was released in 1963 — the year of the Burrus sale — casting the fabled Missionary stamp in a starring role with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn (we will not reveal the ending).
The first auction of United States Stamp Treasures from the William H. Gross collection will be held in New York City on Wednesday, October 3, 2018. The sale will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the New York Palace Hotel in the Drawing Room with a cocktail and hors d’ouvres reception at 5:30 p.m. in the adjoining Library. A schedule of continuing sales will follow.
Special exhibitions and events related to the first Gross sale will be held in several cities in the United States and selected cities around the world. The details of these events will be announced.
The hardbound sale catalogue will be sent to Siegel clients who regularly receive printed catalogues. If you are not a subscriber and wish to receive the catalogue, please call 212-753-6421 or email email@example.com to request an order form.
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