Auctions

Alexandria Blue Boy returns to auction in June 22 H.R. Harmer New York sale

May 30, 2019, 5 AM
One of the top rarities of American philately is the Alexandria Blue Boy, an envelope mailed in 1847 franked with the 5¢ black on blue postmaster’s provisional stamp. No other example of the stamp on blue paper is known to exist. The cover will be offered at auction in New York City by H.R. Harmer on June 22 as part of the Erivan collection.

By Michael Baadke

The 5¢ black on blue round provisional stamp issued by postmaster Daniel Bryan in Alexandria, Va. (then in the District of Columbia), is not only a classic rarity of United States philately: It is unique.

There are no other examples of this typeset stamp in blue known, on cover, off cover, canceled or uncanceled.

The single known stamp, issued in 1846 (or possibly 1847), is affixed to a buff or yellowish cover and struck with a “PAID” postmark. It is commonly known as the Alexandria Blue or the Blue Alexandria, but the 172-year-old cover bearing it is often called the “Blue Boy,” loosely linking it with the famous 18th-century oil portrait by Thomas Gainsborough.

On June 22, the Alexandria Blue Boy is being offered at public auction for the first time since 1967. The H.R. Harmer sale will take place at the Collectors Club, 22 East 35th St., in New York City.

The cover is being offered as the first lot in an auction of 148 items of U.S. and Confederate States material from the extensive collection of German-born business executive Erivan Haub.

Along with nine additional postmasters’ provisionals besides the Alexandria Blue, collectors will find offerings of U.S. general issues, carriers and locals, postmasters’ provisionals and general issues of the Confederate States, Civil War patriotic covers, express companies including Pony Express, Waterbury fancy cancellations, and New York fancy cancels.

Nearly every item on offer in the sale is a cover. The start prices listed in the auction catalog range from $100 for numerous attractive pieces to $1 million for the Alexandria Blue on cover.

The $1 million figure matches the selling price for the same cover as reported 38 years ago by Linn’s Stamp News in its May 25, 1981, issue. David Feldman, the well known stamp auctioneer based in Switzerland, sold the cover “by tender” for $1 million on May 8 of that year. At the time, the sale price was a record for a stamp.

The Alexandria stamp was issued in the year before, or perhaps in the same year that the U.S. federal government offered its own first two postage stamps to the mailing public, the 1847 5¢ red brown Benjamin Franklin and the 10¢ black George Washington (Scott 1-2).

Besides the unique blue stamp there are additional varieties of Alexandria postmaster’s provisional stamps known, but these are printed in black on buff.

The black on buff stamp is still an incredible rarity, with six examples recorded in two distinct types.

Scott 1X1 is type I and 1X1a is type II, distinguished primarily by the number of rosette ornaments encircling the stamp’s text imprint, which reads “ALEXANDRIA POST OFFICE PAID 5.” The type I stamp shows 40 ornaments, and the type II has 39 ornaments.

There are just three examples of each type known of the stamp on buff paper.

The Alexandria Blue stamp is cataloged as Scott 1X2, a type I variety as far as the ornamentation is concerned, but still unique with regard to the color of the paper on which it is printed.

The Alexandria postmaster’s provisional stamps are the first philatelic items listed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. The catalog listing also notes that “No. 1X2 is unique.”

Not much is known about the printing of any of the Alexandria provisional stamps, although some researchers believe they might have been printed in panes of two, with one of each type per pane.

It has been speculated that the stamp printer was likely Edgar Snowden, the publisher of the Alexandria Gazette, but convincing evidence for that attribution has not been found. An article in the May 2006 American Philatelist with research by philatelist May Day Taylor speculates that the stamp on blue paper might have created for a new order by Postmaster Bryan when the new U.S. stamps issued July 1, 1847, were not promptly made available to the Alexandria post office.

A small part of the allure of the Alexandria Blue Boy cover is its link to a young romance and the affectionate letter that the envelope once carried from James Wallace Hoof of Alexandria to Jannett Brown in Richmond, Va.

As reported in Linn’s issue of Oct. 10, 1983, by Donna O’Keefe (now Linn’s editor-at-large Donna Houseman), the letter closed with the admonition to burn it so that Brown’s family would not uncover their romance.

Fortunately, both the letter and the envelope that delivered it were preserved by Miss Brown, and the unique envelope long ago became an icon of American philately.

Mr. Hoof and Miss Brown, by the way, were also happily married some time after the mail delivered his love letter to her.

An early telling of the history of the Alexandria Blue was written by J. Murray Bartels and published in the Collectors Club Philatelist in 1925. In it, he recounts the discovery of the envelope in 1907 by Jannett B. Fawcett, the daughter of the corresponding couple, and how it was sold that year for $3,000 to George H. Worthington.

With a private sale in 1915 or 1916, the cover was obtained by Henry C. Gibson.

Another private transaction in 1922 (as now reported by H.R. Harmer) landed the famous cover in the hands of Alfred H. Caspary, who owned it for more than three decades.

Caspary died in 1955, and the H.R. Harmer sale of his collection of postmasters’ provisionals was reported that year by the Collectors Club Philatelist. Regarding the Alexandria Blue Boy, the article simply noted, “This item opened at $5,000. One buyer called out $10,000 and that figure was the sum at which it was sold.”

The cover was auctioned by Robert A. Siegel for $18,500 in 1967 as part of the Josiah K. Lilly Jr. collection.

According to Siegel’s census of the cover, it was owned by John R. Boker Jr., but changed hands three times in the 1970s before it was purchased in 1981 for $1 million by “a German collector.”

The blue stamp on the cover is described in the H.R. Harmer auction catalog as having a nice fresh shade, “neatly cut to shape, merely touching the outer design, used on envelope, cancelled by clear straight line ‘Paid,’ with matching second strike at left and ‘Alexandria D.C. Nov. 25 [1847]’ town cancel.”

The cover has been described as “neatly restored,” and H.R. Harmer explains that “it shows some obvious sealed tears and other minor faults that do not detract from this world-class rarity.”

Details of the June 22 auction are posted on the website of H.R. Harmer at https://hrharmer.com.

The auction firm’s description of the Erivan series of sales can be found online at www.erivan-collection.com.

Information is also available from H.R. Harmer, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 2607, New York, NY 10111.

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