World Stamps

Michael Baadke

Siegel to auction William H. Gross U.S. collection

February 13, 2018 04:10 PM

  • The William H. Gross collection of United States stamp treasures will be auctioned by Robert A. Siegel. The first sale in a series of four will include the unique used block of four of the 1869 24¢ green and violet Declaration of Independence stamp with inverted center.
  • This unique unused example of the 2¢ blue Hawaiian Missionary stamp is also scheduled for the September sale of items from the Gross collection.
  • William H. Gross at the 2013 dedication of the stamp gallery bearing his name at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Linn’s Stamp News photograph by Jay Bigalke.

By Michael Baadke

The William H. Gross collection of United States stamps and postal history will be offered at auction beginning in late September through a series of four sales by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries.

Charles Shreve and Tracy L. Carey brought the William H. Gross collection to Siegel for the auction

“The first auction will feature approximately 150 items,” according to Siegel, “with hundreds more to be sold at the three subsequent auctions.”

The auction firm expects that the sale is likely to surpass the $9.1 million single-day stamp auction record achieved with the 2007 sale of the Gross collection of Great Britain.

The upcoming sale will offer many outstanding philatelic rarities that have not been available for decades.

One of the many highlights is the unique used block of four of the 1869 24¢ green and violet Declaration of Independence stamp with inverted center (Scott 120b). Like many of the rarities in the Gross collection, this block was once part of the Ryohei Ishikawa collection. Siegel puts an estimate of $750,000 to $1 million on the block.

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The Bible block of six of the 1847 10¢ black George Washington stamps (Scott 2) is the largest unused block of this stamp, one of the first two federal issues of the United States. The stamps were discovered in 1912 between the pages of a Bible owned by the Rives family of Virginia, according to Siegel. The estimated value for the Bible block is $500,000 to $750,000.

Another remarkable block to be offered in the September sale is the largest known multiple of Pan-American inverted center stamps — a block of 20 unused 1¢ green and black Fast Lake Navigation invert stamps (Scott 294a), acquired by Gross in the 1994 sale of the “Westport” collection of Dr. Charles E. Test. The pre-auction estimate for this block is $300,000 to $400,000.

The unique unused example of the 2¢ blue Hawaiian Missionary stamp (Hawaii Scott 1), with an estimated value of $500,000 to $750,000, is also scheduled for the September sale. Before it was in the Gross collection, this stamp was featured in several other important collections, including those of Ferrary, Burrus and Twigg-Smith.

“The 2¢ Blue Hawaiian Missionary earned Hollywood fame in the 1963 motion picture Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn,” Siegel notes.

The many postal history treasures in the sale will include the unique first-day cover franked with a single 1851 blue Benjamin Franklin type Ib stamp (Scott 5A), struck with a red Boston postmark clearly dated July 1, 1851. Siegel estimates the cover’s value at $100,000 to $150,000.

Gross, 73, is a bond market expert who co-founded PIMCO in 1971 and is now portfolio manager for Janus Henderson Investors. He emerged 25 years ago as the world’s leading collector of U.S. stamps, while also assembling remarkable collections of stamps and postal history from Hawaii, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and more.

Many of those other collections have since been auctioned, with millions in proceeds from those sales donated to charitable institutions, including Doctors Without Borders and the Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute.

Gross was also the primary benefactor for the William H. Gross Gallery, which opened in 2013 at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

Much of the Gross U.S. collection was chronicled in 2008 with the publication of The William H. Gross Collection — United States Classics 1847-1869, a beautiful oversized hardcover book illustrating some of the most remarkable stamps and covers known to collectors of U.S. philatelic material.

His collection of the 1847 issue studying the first two stamps issued by the United States has been exhibited internationally to great acclaim.

Selected items from his U.S. collection were auctioned April 9, 2013, by Charles F. Shreve and Tracy L. Shreve in association with Siegel Auction Galleries, with the proceeds (donated to charity) reaching $1.97 million on the sale of 375 lots.

The Gross U.S. collection includes what is considered to be the most valuable single U.S. stamp: the 1867-68 1¢ blue Franklin Z grill (Scott 85A), which is valued in the 2018 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers at $3 million. The only example of this stamp in private hands was obtained by Gross in October 2005 after completing an extraordinary trade with Mystic Stamp Co. president Donald Sundman, who received the unique 1918 24¢ Jenny Invert plate block (C3a) in return.

The only other example of the 1¢ Z grill has been held by the New York Public Library since 1925 as part of the Benjamin K. Miller collection.

Trepel confirmed to Linn’s Stamp News that the 1¢ Z grill will not be offered in the September sale that is opening the auction series.

“I have had the privilege and enjoyment of acquiring many of America’s most iconic stamp rarities over the past 25 years or so,” said Gross. “During that time, I have always thought I was a temporary curator of these treasures and that one day, others should have the opportunity, honor, and responsibility of becoming the new collectors.”

The first auction of United States Stamp Treasures from the William H. Gross collection will be held in New York City in late September 2018.

“The exact date and location of Sale One will be announced in the coming months, and a schedule of continuing sales will follow,” the gallery stated.

“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.”