Is the U.S. 1847 Gross exhibit the 'ultimate' of its kind?

By Scott Trepel

The famous Rush cover to France, franked with the largest-known on-cover multiple of the 10¢ 1847 stamp. The author considers this cover to be one of 12 “iconic” items in the Gross collection exhibit of the 1847 United States general issue.

The reader might surmise from this feature’s headline that, in my opinion, the United States 1847 Issue collection exhibited by William H. Gross has achieved status as the ultimate 1847 issue collection.

Such a bold statement should be supported by facts, and that is the purpose of this article.

To support my contention that Gross has assembled what is essentially the ultimate 1847 collection, the following questions will be asked and answered:

1. Does the collecting area have a clearly defined boundary and well-documented population of surviving relevant material that is unlikely to change significantly over time?

2. Does the collection include a diversity of items, reflecting the entire population of surviving material, and are the representative examples in the finest available quality?

3. Are there any “iconic” items in the collecting subject, and how many are in the collection?

4. Which items meet the standard categories of philatelic significance: earliest documented use, largest recorded multiple, largest franking on cover, and only recorded example (of a variety, postal marking or use).

5. Apart from judging what is included in the collection, is there any significant representative item or iconic item missing from the collection, and, if so, could one reasonably expect it to be present?

Organization of the Gross 1847 exhibit collection

Before answering these five questions, I will provide a basic description of the Gross 1847 exhibit collection. This will be especially helpful to those readers who have never seen it displayed.

The exhibit is presented with the items mounted on 128 letter-size pages. A standard exhibit frame holds 16 pages, and an eight-frame exhibit is the standard size for competition at the highest level.

The exhibit is organized into seven sections and 28 categories.

1. Does the collecting area have a clearly defined boundary and well-documented population of surviving relevant material that is unlikely to change significantly over time?

Yes, and this is an important point to remember when the discussion turns to competition with other collections in other collecting areas.

The 1847 issue was the first U.S. general issue. Although stamps were used in the U.S. mails before 1847 by private posts (1842), independent mail companies (1844) and provisionally at certain post offices (1845), the 1847 stamps were the first authorized by Congress for widespread distribution and sale at U.S. post offices. They were available and valid for only four years, at a time when the use of adhesive postage stamps in the United States was in its infancy.

The issue went on sale July 1, 1847, and it was demonetized four years later, with June 30, 1851, being the last official day of validity.

After the new 1851 issue was released July 1, the public was given a brief opportunity to exchange the obsolete 1847 stamps for the new issue. For this reason, unused examples are rare, especially in multiples.

Surviving covers have been documented in an ongoing census. Although off-cover used stamps are plentiful, the more unusual examples have been identified from auction sale records.

Therefore, any given item may be compared with a well-documented population of surviving items, and after more than 150 years of philatelic discovery, it seems unlikely that any significant or large number of new examples will be found.

2. Does the collection include a diversity of items, reflecting the entire population of surviving material, and are the representative examples in the finest available quality?

Diversity of items

The 386 items in the Gross 1847 collection are categorized into 28 subsections of study. There is a mix of approximately two-thirds 5¢ items and one-third 10¢ items (including combinations and bisects involving the 10¢ stamp). There is roughly an even mix of proofs and stamps (182 items, or 47 percent) and covers (204 items, or 53 percent).

The first three covers shown in the exhibit are located in the Production History section (Plate Make-Up and Earliest Known Usage).

The first two have 5¢ and 10¢ stamps with huge straddle-pane margins showing traces of the positions in the adjacent panes.

These are shown with a 5¢ single off cover, and the three together constitute all known straddle-pane examples, which prove that the 5¢ and 10¢ plates each consisted of two separate panes of 100 divided by an inter-pane gutter.

The third cover follows on the next page. This cover from New York City to Indianapolis with a pair of 10¢ stamps is the only recorded July 2, 1847, use of the issue. Postmarked just one day after the stamps went on sale, it is the earliest documented use of the issue.

There are no known 1847 issue covers postmarked July 1.

In the Five Cents and Ten Cents sections, 220 stamps and covers are displayed on 45 pages to show the largest recorded multiples, blocks, sheet-margin examples, plate varieties (double transfers, recuts, short transfers) and printing varieties (slight doubling of designs, foldovers) for both values.

The Domestic Usages section comprises 84 covers (and nine off-cover stamps with unusual cancellations) displayed on 44 pages. This relatively large section of the exhibit includes a mix of 61 5¢ and 26 10¢ items, plus five combination 5¢-and-10¢ covers, and one 10¢ bisect cover (in addition to the 10 bisects in the preceding section).

The Domestic Usages are grouped into subsections of Domestic Mail, Auxiliary Postal Services, Carrier Services and Local Post, Route Agents and Non-Contract Steamboats.

The Domestic Mail subsection is essentially a study of the rates in effect during the 1847-issue period.

The Auxiliary Postal Services subsection broadly labels several categories of mail or postal markings, such as registration, part paid, missent, forwarded, advertised, way mail, too late, and Wheeling, Va., control grids.

The Carrier Services and Local Post subsection is an important one in the 1847 period because of the great rarity of certain combinations, and carrier and local issues. Included in the exhibit are 18 covers, including six with the 10¢ stamp.

Railroad route agents’ markings, which are found on numerous 1847 covers, are represented by 12 covers in the Route Agent subsection, but additional examples are found in other sections.

For example, the Rush cover bearing a 10¢ strip of six and the “Philada. Railroad” straightline, pictured nearby, is displayed on the Largest Recorded Multiple page (along with the 10¢ block of six with original gum).

The Michigan Central Railroad datestamp is on the famous “Heidelberg” 5¢-and-10¢ combination cover to Germany, located in the section of mail to Europe via the British Isles.

Waterway route agents’ markings are represented by four covers, followed by the noncontract steamboat markings, shown on six covers.

The Used Abroad section is one of the most interesting. There are 10 covers in the British North America group and four in the Panama group. Eight of the 10 BNA covers have 1847 stamps that were applied in Canada or in combination with Canadian stamps.

Three of the four Panama covers have stamps applied at Panama City, where they were made available by the U.S. mail agent, Amos B. Corwine. The fourth was mailed at Chagres with the 20¢ rate paid by a pair of 10¢ stamps applied there (the only recorded example of this rate paid by 1847 stamps).

Foreign mails are represented by 40 covers, including 18 with 5¢ stamps exclusively, 15 with 10¢ stamps exclusively, and seven covers with 5¢-and-10¢ combinations. They are divided into geographic sections: British North America (15), Western Hemisphere (2), British Isles (12) and European destinations via British Isles (11).

The exhibit concludes with three pages devoted to the Epilogue section, comprising six covers showing the last day of validity, first day of demonetization period, use of stamps after demonetization (not accepted and accepted), used from Canada in 1852 and used from Augusta, Ga., during the Confederate period.

Quality of items

The Gross 1847 exhibit collection is unusual, in that almost every one of the more “routine” stamps, blocks and covers is among the finest known of its kind.

The section of 5¢ Deliveries and Shades has virtually no “good enough for display” stamps — that is, suitable to show the shade and attractive on the face, but with a fault. In fact, many of the stamps were among the finest examples owned by renowned 1847 collectors, such as Judge Emerson, Caspary, Rohloff, Grunin and Ishikawa.

The reason for this atypically high level of quality in an exhibit collection is that Gross bought many highlights of auctions since 1993, and he acquired the Wade Saadi 1847 collection intact. These stamps were carefully chosen for soundness and quality, and their value is far greater than that of faulty counterparts, which could have been substituted as representative examples.

The cancellation strikes are uniformly clear and complete, eliminating the need for tracings or illustrations of the complete cancel. The covers are free of serious faults or repairs, with a few necessary exceptions (the presence of a repair is noted on the exhibit page, as required by exhibiting rules).

3. Are there any “iconic” items in the collecting subject, and how many are in the collection?

What exactly do I mean by iconic items?

I use the word “iconic” to describe a philatelic item that denotes a measure of enduring importance and visibility, rarity and demand, which remain powerful after the test of time.

To reach iconic status, according to my definition, a philatelic item must meet all three of the following criteria:

1. As a stamp or cover, it must have essentially unique characteristics that are immediately recognizable and distinguish the item from all other philatelic items.

2. The item must be rare, and its rarity must be reasonably certain and lasting.

3. The item must have widespread demand.

There is a tendency among competing exhibitors to challenge this concept of iconic, arguing that iconic items are expensive, but they are no more important than the most significant item in another collection. This is when the three criteria of philatelic icons come into play, especially No. 3.

Iconic 1847 issue items

The 1847 issue is the first United States regular issue and one of the world’s earliest classic issues; therefore, the most important 1847 items take on iconic status in the broad field of philately.

Naming iconic items in a collection is tricky because of the subjectivity involved. I will present my choices from the Gross collection, knowing full well that some readers will dispute the presence of certain items on this list, and assert the worthiness of other items missing from the list.

In addition to naming iconic 1847 items in the Gross collection, I also will identify the few items I consider iconic that are missing from the collection.

Here are the 12 items in the Gross 1847 exhibit collection that I claim are iconic, by the definition offered above. They are numbered for reference purposes, not ranked by importance.

1. July 2, 1847, cover with 10¢ pair: the earliest recorded use and only recorded July 2 cover.

2. 5¢ block of 16 with original gum: the largest recorded multiple.

3. 10¢ block of six with original gum: the largest recorded unused multiple and the largest block in private hands.

4. The Rush cover, bearing a 10¢ strip of six, the largest recorded multiple on cover.

5. The Waukegan cover, bearing a 10¢ sheet-margin strip of four, the finest quality multiple of the 10¢ on cover.

6. The only recorded matched pair of 10¢ 1847 vertical bisects (two covers).

7. Strip of four used from San Francisco: the only recorded use of the 1847 issue on a 40¢ rate cover from California.

8. 5¢ and Canada 3-penny Beaver mixed franking from Canada to the United States: the only recorded combination of the U.S. 1847 issue and Canadian stamps with both tied by the Canadian cancel.

9. 5¢ strip of five and Canada 3d Beaver mixed franking from Canada to England via United States: the only recorded combination of an 1847 multiple and Canadian stamps.

10. 90¢ triple 30¢ rate cover from Panama to the United States prepaid with nine 10¢ stamps (one partly torn off): the largest recorded 1847-issue franking with 1847s.

11. 5¢ and 10¢ strip of three on retaliatory rate cover to Belgium: the only recorded retaliatory rate cover to this destination.

12. The Heidelberg cover to Germany with combination of 5¢ strip of five and 10¢: the only recorded combination of its kind.

4. Which items meet the standard categories of philatelic significance: earliest documented use, largest recorded multiple, largest franking on cover, and only recorded example (of a variety, postal marking or use)?

The Gross 1847 exhibit is designed to explain the subject matter to the viewer by providing a narrative along with the representative examples of each aspect of the issue.

For the same reason people go to a great art museum to see the most renowned works of art, philatelists are impressed by exhibits that display the most significant items. But what defines an item as key or significant? In philately, it is typically the earliest, the largest and the rarest (“only recorded”).

On page 5 of the exhibit, Gross presents the first of the earliest uses — the July 2, 1847, cover from New York to Indianapolis with a pair of 10¢ stamps — and further on other earliest uses are displayed.

Multiples are well-represented in the Gross collection, which could mislead the uninformed into believing that 1847 multiples are common.

They are, in fact, quite rare.

There are nine 5¢ blocks, including the block of 16 (largest recorded), different shades (unused and used), two major plate varieties and all three of the blocks known on cover.

The largest recorded unused multiple of the 10¢ (the block of six with original gum) is followed by both of the used blocks in private hands. Two others are in institutional collections. No 10¢ blocks are known on cover.

In addition to 5¢ blocks, there are nine strips of three or larger, including the unused strip of eight of the orange brown (Scott 1b, the largest recorded unused multiple of this shade) and eight strips of varying sizes on separate covers, including the largest 1847 multiple known on cover (strip of 10).

In addition to the three 10¢ blocks, there are 14 strips of the 10¢, including 12 on covers. This rather remarkable group includes the Rush cover to France (with its strip of six, the largest 10¢ multiple known on cover) and the retaliatory rate cover to Belgium (10¢ strip of three and 5¢ single).

There are numerous only known examples shown in the exhibit, some of which represent highly specialized aspects of the stamps and their use.

Among the highlights are the only known 1847 covers with six- and seven-times multiple 5¢ rate; all three 1847 and Canadian mixed-franking covers (two from Canada, one to Canada); and four of the 10 known 1847 retaliatory rate covers: the Rush cover to France (strip of 10¢), 5¢-and-10¢ combination to Nova Scotia, 10¢ strip of three to England, and 5¢-and-10¢ combination to Belgium.

5. Apart from judging what is included in the collection, is there any significant representative item or iconic item missing from the collection, and if so, could one reasonably expect it to be present?

In the iconic class, there are only four 1847 items that, in my opinion, could be added to the list of 12 items in the Gross collection to form a complete list.

The first is the pair of 1847 hand-drawn essays in the National Postal Museum collection, which were of uncertain provenance for many years, but now have been tied to a contemporary letter from the printers, Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson (also in the NPM collection).

Two missing icons fall into the category of largest recorded multiples. One is the famous “Bandholtz” block of 14 of the 10¢ 1847 in the Hirzel collection at the Swiss PTT Museum, which is pen-canceled and ranks as the largest multiple of the 10¢ 1847. The Gross collection has the largest unused multiple.

If and when the block of 30 of the 5¢ with original gum and full sheet margins ever enters the public record, it will certainly become an iconic item; therefore, it is counted here as the third missing icon.

The fourth and final 1847 icon absent from the Gross collection is the cover from New York City to San Francisco with the double 40¢ rate paid by eight 10¢ stamps, which was last sold in the 1992 Siegel auction of Dr. Leonard Kapiloff’s collection, before Gross started acquiring major items.

Bill Gross: In the right

places at the right times

I contend that the Gross 1847 collection is not only the ultimate 1847 collection, but that it is superior to any 1847 collection ever formed, and in fact, it could not have been formed at any other time in the past.

The reason is simple. At all other points in history, the material — in particular, the iconic items — were never available at the same time.

By collecting during the 20 years from 1993 to 2013, Gross was in the right places at the right times. Although there was fierce competition during those two decades, Gross simply outbid or outlasted his competitors.

What follows is a necessarily brief synopsis of the various collectors who have specialized in 1847s, beginning at the start of the 20th century.

During the period from 1900 until the 1930s, the major 1847 collectors were Henry C. Gibson Jr., Sen. Ernest R. Ackerman, Judge Robert S. Emerson, Frank R. Sweet, Edward S. Knapp and Alfred H. Caspary. Much of the great 1847 material was held by these collectors, and important items were scattered across many other collections.

As these collections were dispersed in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the two largest known blocks were acquired by Philip H. Ward, and many of the iconic covers were acquired by Philip G. Rust, a farmer in Georgia who was married to a member of the du Pont family.

When the Frank R. Sweet reconstruction of the 10¢ 1847 (including the Bandholtz block of 14) was offered by H.R. Harmer in 1960 on behalf of “the present owner,” the anonymous owner was, in fact, Philip Rust.

After the second World War and into the 1960s, important 1847 collections were formed by Emmerson C. Krug, Jack Dick, Howard Lehman, Katherine Matthies, J. David Baker, Creighton C. Hart and John D. Pope III.

In 1963, the 5¢ and 10¢ blocks were acquired from the Ward estate by Raymond and Roger Weill and sold to their client, Benjamin D. Phillips. The blocks returned to the Weills after the brothers purchased the entire Phillips collection intact for $4.07 million in 1968, and they remained in the Weills’ domain for the next 10 years.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Marc Haas became a force in the 1847 market, along with Paul C. Rohloff. They were joined in the 1970s by Louis Grunin and Ryohei Ishikawa, who started forming major 1847 collections. At the same time, Dr. Leonard Kapiloff began acquiring important 1847 covers as they appeared at auction (he bought the Rush cover in 1971 when Philip G. Rust sold it through H.R. Harmer).

To a more modest degree, Philip T. Wall, Henry Stollnitz and others built significant 1847 collections in the 1970s and 1980s.

When Duane Garrett emerged on the scene in the late 1970s, Grunin’s 1847 collection, including the 5¢ single and Canada 3d mixed-franking cover, was sold to Garrett in a transaction brokered by Andrew Levitt.

Sometime around 1979 or 1980, the Weills sold the two 1847 blocks to Ishikawa, who displayed them in his Grand Prix U.S. 1847-69 collection.

Ishikawa also bought the 5¢ strip and Canada 3d Beaver combination cover from Robert A. Siegel, who brokered a private transaction on behalf of Philip Rust.

After Garrett tired of his 1847s (or possibly for personal financial reasons), the collection was sold intact to Kapiloff in a private deal negotiated by Harvey Warm and Siegel. This acquisition put Kapiloff in a position to begin exhibiting. With the help of Stanley M. Piller, he began showing his 1847s in national and international exhibitions.

At Ameripex in 1986, Ishikawa showed his U.S. 1847-69s, Grunin displayed his 1851-57 issue covers, and Kapiloff exhibited his 1847s. It was an extraordinary moment in philately.

From 1981 to 1992, the Ishikawa and Kapiloff collections made it impossible for anyone else to form a truly outstanding 1847 collection.

Ishikawa owned five of the iconic items (Nos. 2, 3, 5, 9 and 10 on the list in this article), and Kapiloff owned seven others (Nos. 4, 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12, plus the 80¢ rate cover to California).

When Kapiloff sold his collection through Siegel in 1992, the major contenders were John R. Boker Jr. and Guido Craveri.

Boker had started collecting 1847s a few years earlier and bought heavily from the Creighton C. Hart collection when it was sold in 1990.

Craveri turned his attention from Europe, Great Britain and South America to the United States, and like locusts over a Kansas wheat field, he swept the market, devouring everything from major items to a seemingly endless number of small-town uses.

Also present at the 1992 Kapiloff sale was the late John Salomon, who represented a wealthy client, for whom he acquired the 80¢ rate cover. Harvey Mirsky bid in the Kapiloff sale as he started to assemble his 1847 collection, which he eventually turned into a large-gold exhibit.

The 1993 Christie’s sale of Ishikawa’s collection changed the dynamics of the market. In that sale, Boker and Craveri were challenged by two new contenders.

Colin Fraser, a Christie’s employee, was on the phone with an anonymous bidder who was later revealed to be Joseph Hackmey. Charles and Tracy Shreve bid in the room, speaking with Bill Gross by phone as they acquired major items throughout the auction, including the two 1847 blocks and the Waukegan cover.

From 1993 to 2010, the field of competitors was reduced one by one.

Boker sold his collection to Gross in 1994 in a private transaction brokered by Andrew Levitt, Sonny Hagendorf and the Shreves. Craveri liquidated his collection in various auctions held by Harvey Bennett. Gross acquired Wade Saadi’s specialized 1847 collection.

Finally, Joseph Hackmey sold his collection to Gross in 2010 in a private transaction, which occurred after the Geneva-based firm of David Feldman had announced they would offer the collection at auction.

The private deal was brokered by Feldman and Spink-Shreves. It allowed Gross to preclude competition from his biggest rival in 1847s, Gordon Eubanks.

As the chronology of the 1847 market shows, there was never an opportunity to assemble all of the great 1847 items into one collection until after the Kapiloff and Ishikawa dispersals in 1992 and 1993. Even then, it took another 20 years for Gross to outbid and outlast his competitors.

After incorporating their holdings into his own, the material was distilled down to the 386-item exhibit collection shown in Australia and Brazil in 2013.

It does not seem to be overstating the case to say that Mr. Gross has assembled the ultimate 1847 collection.

 

Scott Trepel is president of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York City.

This is an abridged and lightly edited version of Trepel’s article titled “Is Bill Gross’ 1847 Collection the ‘Ultimate’ Collection of United States 1847s?” published in the March-April 2014 issue of the Collectors Club Philatelist. It appears in Linn’s with the permission of Scott Trepel and the Collectors Club Philatelist.

Published 3/14/2014 11:58 AM