Sale 1115 — A European Connoisseur's Collection of U.S. Classic Issues
Sale Date — Tuesday, 15 December, 2015
Category — 1861-66 Issue, cont. (Scott 68-70c)
VERY FINE. THE 1861-62 24-CENT RED AND BROWN LILAC SHADES ARE EXTREMELY RARE AS UNUSED BLOCKS. THIS IS ONE OF THE LARGEST AND FINEST 24-CENT BROWN LILAC UNUSED BLOCKS EXTANT.
After spending hours searching on-line records and our extensive auction catalogue library, we were only able to confirm the existence of two or possibly three unused blocks of Scott 70 Red Lilac and Scott 70a Brown Lilac, including this block. One of the other two is a block of four (PFC 367395, Siegel Sale 833, lot 382). There is also a vertical block of six with part imprint and plate number in the William H. Gross collection, identified as Scott 70a, but that block was previously described as Scott 78 and the shape of the perforations appear to be characteristic of the later printing on thick paper, making identification uncertain.
We would have lost a bet if asked about the rarity of unused blocks of Scott 70 or 70a before trying to answer the question of how many exist. The collections that are famous for blocks -- Caspary, Lilly, Ishikawa and Klein -- did not have any Red Lilac or Brown Lilac unused blocks. Crocker had one described as an "intermediate shade" which was offered years later as a 24c Lilac, Scott 78. Hind had a "badly centered" original-gum block of six of a shade called Lilac, which was almost certainly Scott 78. Worthington had a block of six described as "Red Lilac (70), darker shade...o.g., very fine," but the darker shade was almost certainly the later Scott 78 color. Sinkler had a block described as "Red Lilac, block, o.g., fine," which is off center and very pale in the catalogue photo, so it is impossible to say if it is truly the Red Lilac, Scott 70 (it probably is not). Colson, in his booklet on the Duckwall collection, describes a well-centered, original-gum block of the Red Lilac, but that was in 1929, and we simply cannot verify his identification, let alone if the block still survives intact. In fact, the absence of blocks in the more modern collections (Lilly, Klein, Ishikawa) is a strong indicator of rarity -- if more blocks existed, these collectors would have had one.
Why did we start with the mistaken impression that this block was one of several? Because the large number of 24c Lilac and Gray Lilac (Scott 78) unused multiples tricks the memory. The rarity of the earlier printings in Red Lilac and Brownish Lilac (on thinner paper) should not be confused with the later printings in the common shade on thicker paper.
We have tried (and failed) to trace the provenance of the block of six offered here. It most likely has been in the European Connoisseur's collection for more than a half-century. The absence of gum may have something to do with the block's extraordinary freshness and true color, as well as the fact that it has been sheltered from frequent exposure to light and other color-degrading factors.
The Scott Catalogue value for an original-gum block of No. 70 is $15,000.00, but we have no idea what the editors used as a basis for that value. For Scott 70a, of which one block is recorded (last sold in 2000), the value is $17,000.00 versus $13,000.00 for four original-gum singles. The value of Scott 70a in unused (no gum) condition is $1,250.00, so the total is $7,500.00 for the six stamps in this block. Our estimate is based on that value, but a collector who acquires this important philatelic artifact for anything approaching our estimate should open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate.
VERY FINE AND CHOICE. THIS MAGNIFICENT ORIGINAL-GUM BLOCK OF SIX OF THE 1861 24-CENT STEEL BLUE IS THE LARGER AND BY FAR THE FINER OF THE TWO RECORDED BLOCKS OF THIS RARE CLASSIC STAMP. CONSIDERING ITS SIGNIFICANCE AS THE LARGEST RECORDED MULTIPLE, ITS IMPECCABLE QUALITY AND THE GREAT RARITY OF EVEN SINGLE EXAMPLES OF THE 24-CENT STEEL BLUE WITH ORIGINAL GUM, WE FEEL IT IS JUSTIFIABLE TO DESCRIBE THIS AS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL UNITED STATES CLASSIC PHILATELIC ITEMS.
The major shades of the 24c 1861-63 Issue are the early printings in Red Lilac (70), Brown Lilac (70a), Steel Blue (70b), Violet (70c), Dark Violet (60 or 70TC6), and Pale Gray Violet (70d), followed by the later printings in Lilac (78), Grayish Lilac (78a), Gray (78b), and Blackish Violet (78c). The scarcest 24c shades are the Steel Blue and Violets. Unlike the Violet shades, which can change over time and be difficult to classify with certainty, the Steel Blue is usually stable and readily distinguishable. Apart from the Blackish Violet (70c), of which three original-gum examples are recorded, the Steel Blue is the rarest in original-gum condition, and multiples are exceedingly rare.
We record the following multiples, from the largest to smallest: 1) Block of six, original gum, sound, ex Worthington and Caspary, the block offered here; 2) Block of four, original gum, perfs trimmed off bottom right, ex Duveen, Hind, Sinkler, Lilly, last offered in our 1991 Rarities sale (Sale 737, lot 387); and 3) Horizontal pair, Positions 1-2 with top left corner sheet margins, original gum, sound ex Drucker (Siegel Sale 851, lot 79). A third block, with top sheet margin, ex Gibson and offered in our 1974 Rarities sale (Sale 448, lot 61), was broken into singles. This block of six and the surviving block of four (with clipped perfs) almost certainly formed a block of ten. Using Photoshop, we were able to perfectly align the right side of the block of six with the left side of the block of four.
As the largest recorded multiple of a rare classic stamp, this 24c Steel Blue block would be important in any condition. However, its desirability is further enhanced by its flawless condition, choice centering and the remarkable preservation of color, which might have something to do with its provenance. As far as we have been able to determine, it has been in no more than three collections during the past century. The first owner of record is George H. Worthington, who exhibited the block in his magnificent display of United States rarities at the 1913 International Philatelic Exhibition in New York. In the exhibition catalogue entry, the "block of six 24c steel blue" is specifically mentioned in a short list of highlights, including the 15c and 30c 1869 Pictorial Inverts with original gum. We are unable to determine who sold the block to Worthington, but each stamp in the block has a small "W.H.C." backstamp, which was applied by Warren H. Colson, one of the preeminent dealers of the early 20th century. It is possible that Colson was the source, possibly when he dispersed the Frederick W. Ayer collection in 1903 and 1904.
After Worthington's financial troubles forced the sale of his stamp collection to Alfred F. Lichtenstein in 1917, the United States portion was offered at auction by J. C. Morgenthau & Co. on August 21-23, 1917. The 24c Steel Blue block of six was lot 321 and realized $1,150 against the then-current catalogue value of $450.
The block next appeared 39 years later in the Alfred H. Caspary sale held by H. R. Harmer on November 19-21, 1956, as lot 142. It was described as "One of the outstanding items known of the 1861 issue... from the 'Worthington' Collection," which leads us to believe that Caspary was the buyer in 1917. The block sold for $1,900 to the Weills of New Orleans. At the time the Weills were buying heavily for Benjamin D. Phillips, their secret client whose collection the Weills acquired in 1968 for $4.07 million. However, based on the inventory of items owned by Phillips, the Weills did not buy the 24c Steel Blue block for him in the Caspary sale. It is believed that they were acting as agents for, or sold it soon after to, the European Connoisseur, with whom they did extensive business in the late 1950's through the mid-1960's.
Based on our research, we feel confident in establishing a three-owner provenance from at least 1913 to today: Worthington, Caspary and the European Connoisseur. Perhaps because this block has been shielded from handling and exposure to light and the elements for the past century, it has retained its youthful bloom and true color.
Ex Worthington and Caspary. Small "W.H.C." (Colson) backstamp on each stamp. With 2015 P.F. certificate as "genuine, previously hinged." Scott Catalogue value for a block of four ($75,000.00) and two singles ($16,500.00 each) is a total of
EXTREMELY FINE CENTERING AND ESSENTIALLY SOUND. AN EXCEEDINGLY RARE ORIGINAL-GUM EXAMPLE OF THE 1861 24-CENT VIOLET ON THIN PAPER WITH THE COLOR BEAUTIFULLY PRESERVED.
The 24c 1861 exists in four basic shades of Violet: Dark Violet (August 1861 trial printing, formerly Scott 60); Violet on Thin Paper (August-September 1861 regular issue, Scott 70c -- the shade offered here); Pale Gray Violet (1861 regular issue, Scott 70d) and Blackish Violet (ca. 1863 printing, Scott 78c). All four are rare, especially in sound original-gum condition.
The ink used to print the 24c 1861 stamps in Violet is prone to change with continued exposure to light. Because the European Connoisseur's collection was never exhibited, and the stamp has been in an album since the 1950's, this example of Violet has extraordinary color. We urge the next owner to put it away, in order to preserve the true Violet color, which is rarely encountered with the vibrancy seen in this stamp.