The three 1869 Pictorial Inverts are on almost every serious collector’s want list. The Siegel photo census of Scott 119b, 119c, 120b and 121b can be found at https://siegelauctions.com/census.php.
If used stamps are acceptable, acquiring examples of the 15¢ and 24¢ 1869 Inverted Centers is not terribly difficult. Currently there are 101 used singles of the 15¢ and 79 used singles of the 24¢ (this total excludes the block of 4, a pair, a single on cover). There will have to be some compromising on condition, since small faults and <=70 point centering are the norms for the populations of these 1869 Invert denominations.
The 30¢ Inverted Flags is a much scarcer stamp, but sound, well-centered examples make up a higher percentage of the 47 used stamps.
Unused 1869 Inverts are an entirely different matter. There is a three-set limit on the number of complete unused 1869 Invert sets that can exist at any given time. There are only three 15¢ Invert stamps in unused condition, and only one of these has any original gum. Although four unused examples of the 24¢ Invert are recorded, one of these permanently resides in The British Library (it was part of the Tapling collection), which makes the 24¢ practically as rare as the 15¢. The 30¢ Invert is the most “common” of the three, with seven unused examples (one has significant traces of original gum).
The late David Wingate came close to joining the pantheon of stamp collectors who have successfully assembled all three 1869 Inverts in unused condition. Those 16 collectors are:
1 Otto von Transehe-Roseneck (a 19th century collector whose collection was bought by a dealer in 1899)
2 George Worthington
3 Arthur Hind
4 Philip H. Ward, Jr.
5 Wharton Sinkler
6 Metta Heathcote
7 Capt. Barrett Hindes
8 Charles A. Schafer
9 “Newport” Collection
10 Anonymous collector “H”
11 H. Houghton Phillips Jr.
12 Ryohei Ishikawa
13 Anonymous collector (Hagendorf as agent)
14 Steven Walske (“Lafayette” 1869 collection)
15 William H. Gross*
16 Anonymous collector “A” (set completed in 2017)*
* These are currently the only two complete sets, but the sale of the Wingate 24¢ could complete a third set.
The set owned by Ryo Ishikawa brings back a personal recollection from 1987. After winning the FIP Grand Prix International in WIPA 1981 (Vienna, Austria) and the Grand Prix National in AMERIPEX ‘86 (Chicago, Illinois), Ishikawa was determined to win the “Philatelic Grand Slam” of three Grand Prix awards for the same collection. He asked his agent, Harvey Warm, to improve his already fantastic exhibit of U.S. 1847-1869 issues.
One of the “holes” in Ishikawa’s exhibit was created by the absence of a set of unused 1869 Inverts. Warm asked me to approach the Weills about buying a set they had recently acquired as part of the H. Houghton “Hoky” Phillips collection. Hoky Phillips was a relative of the Weills’ secret client, Benjamin D. Phillips, whose collection they bought in 1968 for $4.07 million (incidentally, B.D. did not own a complete set of unused 1869 Inverts). The Hoky Phillips set contained a 15¢ with slightly clipped perfs (Census No. 119b-UNC-03) and a 30¢ with faults (Census No. 121b-UNC-05), but the key was the 24¢ (Census No. 120b-UNC-01). Raymond willingly substituted the magnificent 15¢ with original gum (Census No. 119b-OG-01) and sold the set for a substantial six-figure sum. I was asked not to reveal the identity of the collector making the purchase through me (Ishikawa), so Raymond presumed, incorrectly, it was Robert Zoellner.
Harvey Warm upgraded the 30¢ with a beautiful unused stamp (Census No. 121b-UNC-03), and this was the set Ishikawa displayed at CAPEX ‘87 in Toronto, Canada, where he captured his third and final Grand Prix d’Honneur.
Raymond Weill attended CAPEX, as did I, and he looked at Ishikawa’s exhibit. He found me on the exhibition floor and excitedly told me that Ishikawa had another unused 1869 Invert set. When I explained that Ishikawa's set was the one he had just sold to me, with an upgraded 30¢, he was visibly perplexed and wondered out loud why Ishikawa had not approached him directly, since the Weills had sold many important items to Ishikawa in the 1970s. I knew the answer — there was a premium to be paid if your last name was Ishikawa. It was a rare occasion when Raymond Weill did not have the upper hand in a transaction — Harvey Warm came from New Orleans and knew how to play the game with the Weills. He sent a front man (me) to acquire the set.
The 15¢ with original gum was sold in the 2003 auction of Steve Walske’s 1869 collection under the pseudonym “Lafayette.” David Wingate attended that sale, and he had an opportunity to buy the 15¢ and 24¢ to go with his unused 30¢. Unfortunately, he was outbid for the 15¢, but he did buy the 24¢. He was never able to acquire the 15¢ Invert in unused condition.
Last year, a collector who owns the 15¢ with original gum and an unused 30¢ acquired the 24¢ (Census No. 120b-UNC-02), which effectively broke up the set owned by an anoynmous collector (“H”). With the offering of the Wingate 24¢, a third collector has the opportunity to complete a set. It will be interesting to see if that happens, or if another collector embarks on a mission to become the 17th collector to complete an unused set of 1869 Inverts.