Sale 1244 — The Arthur S. Przybyl Collection of United States, Confederate States and Hawaii
Sale Date — Tuesday-Wednesday, 9-10 November, 2021
Category — Hawaii, including Missionary Stamps
THE ONLY KNOWN UNUSED EXAMPLE OF HAWAII'S FIRST STAMP, AND THE FINEST OF THE FIFTEEN RECORDED COPIES. ONE OF THE MOST ICONIC STAMPS IN ALL OF PHILATELY.
This remarkable stamp appeared in the first sale of the Count Philippe de la Renotiere von Ferrary collection, held at the Hotel Drouot in Paris on June 23, 1921, under the supervision of M. G. Gilbert. In the sale this stamp was described “probablement le plus bel exemplaire qui existe de ce timbre” (“probably the most beautiful example of this stamp that exists”); the describer mistook the printer’s ink on back for a light blue cancel, an error of judgment that was repeated in the Meyer-Harris book (p. 112). The 2c Missionary was purchased in the Ferrary sale by Maurice Burrus, an Alsatian tobacco magnate, for the U.S. dollar equivalent of $14,700—the highest price ever paid for a single stamp at that time. By comparison, in subsequent Ferrary sales the Swedish 1857 3-skilling banco Yellow color error was sold for $3,095, the Baden 1851 9-kreuzer Blue-Green color error on cover sold for $8,087, and an unused Mauritius 1847 One-penny “Post Office” realized $9,733
In the Ferrary sale, the reality about this 2c Missionary stamp—that it is unused—was apparent to the bidders and to its buyer, Maurice Burrus. When the stamp was featured in Life magazine’s “World’s Rarest Stamps” (May 3, 1954), courtesy of Burrus, it was clearly identified as unused and valued at $20,000. The massive Burrus collection was dispersed after his death in numerous auctions in the 1960s, and the Hawaii was sold by H. R. Harmer of New York on May 27, 1963. In that sale the stamp’s unused condition was confirmed by a 1963 Philatelic Foundation certificate. Bidding drove up the price to a world record of $41,000 hammer. The buyers of record, Raymond and Roger Weill, stated at the time, “[The stamp is] 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-breaking 1963 sale was reported extensively in the news media, but nowhere so imaginatively as in Life magazine (November 29, 1963), 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 one two-thousandths of an ounce, troy, its value was calculated at $1,195,833,395.61 per pound.
The unused 2c Missionary was placed by the Weills in the collection of Benjamin D. Phillips, where it joined the equally rare 2c Missionary cover. After the Weills acquired the Phillips collection in 1968 for $4.07 million, these two stellar rarities were acquired by Alfred J. Ostheimer III. Soon after, Thurston Twigg-Smith, a descendant of the first missionaries, acquired the stamp from Ostheimer. It was next sold in the 1995 Siegel sale of the Honolulu Advertiser collection, where the winning floor bid of $600,000 was executed by Walter J. Mader on behalf of Greg Manning. Two years later, the stamp was sold by Manning to William H. Gross (through the Shreves), following the Ivy & Mader auction at the Pacific ‘97 stamp show. The stamp was one of Mr. Gross’s personal favorites, and he held it for 21 years. It was acquired by Mr. Przybyl in our 2018 Gross United States Treasures auction.
There is a story associated with the early history of this stamp that has been reported as fact by several philatelic authors, but disputed as fiction by others. 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 2c Missionary and later confessed to killing Leroux to obtain it. The Missionary earned fame in another murder-mystery story when the motion picture Charade was released, casting the fabled Hawaiian stamp in a starring role with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn (we will not tell the ending).
Described and illustrated in Stamps of Fame, L. N. and M. Williams (pages 96-97, plate 15). Ex Gaston Leroux (?), Philippe de la Renotiere von Ferrary, Maurice Burrus, Benjamin D. Phillips, Alfred J. Ostheimer III. Thurston Twigg-Smith and William H. Gross.
Census numbers: Siegel 1-II-UNC-1; Meyer-Harris 8; Brewster 1-II-Unused-1. With 1995 P.F. certificate.
VIEW PDF OF HISTORY AND COMMENTARY at https://siegelauctions.com/2018/1188/106.pdf