Dragonfly collections of outstanding U.S. postage and revenue stamps in Feb. 27-29 Siegel auction series

Feb 15, 2024, 7 AM

By Charles Snee

Outstanding offerings of United States postage and revenue stamps will be up for bids during Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries’ Feb. 27-29 auction series at Siegel’s gallery in New York City.

On Feb. 27-28, Siegel will present a choice selection of U.S. stamps featuring proofs, unused singles, errors, blocks and covers from the Dragonfly collection; and stamps from two different estate collections.

On Leap Day, Feb. 29, Siegel will gavel down the 333-lot Dragonfly collection of U.S. revenue stamps that features a splendid assemblage of private die proprietary stamps, more familiarly known as match and medicine stamps.

In the introduction to the catalog prepared for each sale, Siegel president Scott Trepel revealed his 35-year friendship with the anonymous collector whom he calls “Dragonfly.”

Trepel described the collector as having keen powers of observation and what he calls “a collector’s gut.”

“You see, my friend did not collect stamps, but he collected other objects that enabled him to hone his collector skills and develop a fine-tuned gut,” Trepel said. “His appreciation of opportunity was not based on a profound knowledge of classic multiples …”

“If you have experience, you can make smart decisions when you are staring at something great,” Trepel said.

According to Trepel, his friend does not consider himself a philatelist. Nonetheless, he used his knowledge and listened to his gut when attending significant sales from 2018 to 2023 that presented opportunities to acquire some great rarities in classic-era U.S. philately.

One such item is the largest known multiple of the 1868 24¢ gray lilac George Washington stamp with F grill (Scott 99): a magnificent block of 15 that came from an intact right pane of 100 that Frederick de Coppet purchased for $300 in an 1893 J.W. Scott Co. sale.

In the lot description for the 24¢ F grill block of 15, Siegel provides a brief history of the block’s philatelic journey.

“Following the 1893 de Coppet sale, the 24c F Grill pane was divided into smaller units,” Siegel said. “The plate block and a few other blocks were acquired by the Cleveland tycoon George H. Worthington, and the block of 15 became part of automobile magnate Joseph T. Lozier’s collection. A large block of 18 from the upper right corner eventually found a place in Colonel Edward H. R. Green’s collection. When it was sold in Part 23 of the Green sales [in 1945], it was immediately divided into smaller blocks, as documented in a note from Philip H. Ward, Jr., who wrote ‘[the block] was broken ... in New York yesterday so that my Lozier block of 15, which is well centered, is the largest block now known to me’ (Ashbrook index files).”

“Ward’s block passed to [Roger and Raymond Weill] in 1963, when they bought his estate, and one year later to their principal client, Benjamin D. Phillips,” Siegel said. “After a few appearances in auctions [Siegel’s 1984 and 1989 Rarities of the World sales], it was bought in the 1992 Rarities of the World sale by Christopher Rupp, who sold it privately to William H. Gross.”

The Dragonfly collector purchased the block in Siegel’s 2019 sale of Gross’ collection of U.S. stamp multiples for $106,200, inclusive of the 18 percent buyer’s premium.

All 15 stamps in the block have original gum, according to Siegel. The second and third stamps in the second row have been certified as mint, never-hinged. Siegel said five others show no evidence of hinging: the second stamp in the first row; the fourth stamp in the second row; and the first, second and fourth stamps in the third row.

Accompanying the block are 1989 and 2019 Philatelic Foundation certificates, the latter confirming the mint, never-hinged condition of the second and third stamps in the second row (described as “positions 7 & 8”). The 1989 certificate describes the entire block as “previously hinged.”

Overall, the block has “magnificent centering, rich color and sharp impression,” according to Siegel, and “contains several of the finest examples known of the issue.”

Siegel lists this block of 15 of the 1868 24¢ gray lilac George Washington F grill stamp without an estimate but provides a total Scott catalog value of $152,500 as two blocks of four, three pairs and a single.

As Trepel said in the introduction to the catalog for the Dragonfly U.S. revenue collection, the collector has a particularly keen interest in match and medicine stamps.

“I felt a vicarious thrill watching him form the Match & Medicine collection, because this area is one of my favorite collecting subjects,” Trepel said.

He added, “The stamps especially engraved and printed for private companies that sold proprietary products are the ‘locals’ of revenues.”

One of the match and medicine stamps in the Dragonfly collection stands out because it is unique: the Maryland Match Co. 1¢ blue printed on paper watermarked “USIR” (Scott RO131d). The watermark letters stand for U.S. Internal Revenue.

Siegel notes that the stamp has a repaired tear at top, and that flaw is described on the accompanying certificate the Philatelic Foundation issued in 2017.

The story behind a rare stamp or cover is usually just as fascinating as the item itself. That is certainly the case for the watermarked Maryland Match Co. stamp.

“The story of the discovery of the Maryland Match Co. watermarked stamp is told by Edward Phelps, the first owner of this rarity, who started collecting stamps around 1880 at the age of 12 in Worcester, Massachusetts,” Siegel said. “ … His father took a position with the Agriculture Department in Washington starting in 1882, leaving his wife and son in Worcester. Around 1884 or 1885, his father became acquainted with the clerk at the Bureau of Internal Revenue who was in charge of the stamp vaults and destroying obsolete remainders. The clerk told his father that he was in the habit of taking one stamp from each sheet to be destroyed and saving them in an envelope. … The clerk sold the envelope full of stamps to Phelps’s father for $25 … The elder Phelps mounted some on 1874-edition Scott album pages and left some in the original envelope.”

About a year after the 1899 publication of The Boston Revenue Book, Edward Phelps happened upon the “addenda in the back of the book detailing the printing by the Bureau [of Internal Revenue] on watermarked paper; the book states no copies are known,” according to Siegel. “Phelps checked the stamps obtained by his father from the clerk, and discovered that the Maryland Match Co. stamp was printed on watermarked paper.”

When his collection was sold in 1906, Phelps stated that an assistant at the auction firm damaged the top of the stamp, Siegel said. As stated on the aforementioned 2017 Foundation certificate, that tear has since been repaired.

Following the sale of the Phelps collection, the stamp resided in the storied revenue collections of Col. E.H.R. Green, Clarence Eagle, Morton Dean Joyce, Grant Inman and J. William Middendorf II before being acquired by the Dragonfly collector.

Siegel is offering the unique watermarked Maryland Match Co. private die proprietary stamp without an estimate. The stamp is valued at $42,500 in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers.

Siegel has prepared separate catalogs for the Feb. 27-28 Dragonfly U.S. stamps and Feb. 29 Dragonfly U.S. revenue stamps auctions. Full details of the sales, including a downloadable version of the catalogs and online bidding options, are available on the Siegel website.

For additional information, contact Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, 21 W. 38th St., Seventh Floor, New York, NY 10018.

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