Famous Canal Zone error, unique St. Louis Bears cover in June 20-21 H.R. Harmer auction in New York City

Jun 12, 2023, 1 PM

By Charles Snee

On June 20, H.R. Harmer will present two notable Canal Zone collections: a holding of stamps and postal history formed by James W. Crumpacker and Paul Ammons’ array of airmail stamps and postal history.

H.R. Harmer has grouped both collections in a 577-lot auction that will take place at 10 a.m. Eastern Time at the firm’s gallery in Rockefeller Center in New York City.

Part 9 of the expansive Erivan collection of United States and Confederate States postal history will be presented to bidders on June 21. That auction, comprising 744 lots, is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.

Erivan Haub (1932-2018) was a billionaire and retail businessman whose prodigious collecting interests spanned the globe.

In the introduction to the Crumpacker and Ammons auction catalog, H.R. Harmer president Charles Epting expresses pleasant surprise at the differences between the collections despite their focus on the same area.

“As an auctioneer, this is a dream come true; I don’t think it would be possible to find two more impressive Canal Zone collections with so little overlap,” Epting said.

“With the exception of one major error (the 6c airmail official inverted overprint, [Scott] CO14a) there is essentially no duplication. The resulting catalogue is, I hope, one which will become a useful reference work for future generations of Canal Zone collectors.”

Collectors seeking to fill spaces in their albums for early Canal Zone issues will find many of the overprint error varieties listed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers.

A standout modern error from the Crumpacker collection is a mint, never-hinged 1962 4¢ Thatcher Ferry Bridge stamp with the silver bridge omitted (Scott 157a).

H.R. Harmer identifies this striking error as coming from position 37 in the unique discovery pane of 50. An expertizing certificate issued Dec. 20, 1990, by the Philatelic Foundation states that the error is genuine.

Against a Scott U.S. Specialized value of $8,000, H.R. Harmer is offering this 4¢ Thatcher Ferry Bridge silver-omitted error stamp with a starting bid of $2,000.

Collectors who missed out on H.R. Harmer’s previous Erivan sales will have a fresh set of opportunities to add impressive stamps and postal history to their holdings.

Epting’s preface to the Erivan auction catalog sheds light on how the collection contained great rarities in humble surroundings. Surprises are still to be found, he said.

“The majority of the ‘Erivan’ Collection was stored in a series of binders arranged by subject: Western expresses, locals, fancy cancels, patriotic covers,” according to Epting.

“One small binder was filled with the kind of plastic sleeves that normally house modern first day covers; in the case of the ‘Erivan’ Collection, they contained a New Haven Provisional entire and a set of 1930 Zeppelins on a first day cover. This is what I mean when I say that there are surprises to be found.”

Postal history of the 1845-46 St. Louis, Mo., postmaster’s provisional stamps (Scott 11X1-11X8) is scarce to rare. The stamps are known to collectors as the St. Louis Bears because of the two standing bears flanking the Missouri coat of arms in the design.

One such cover from the Erivan collection, however, is unique: the 1846 folded letter bearing two 20¢ black stamps on greenish paper (Scott 11X3) and a 10¢ black stamp on gray lilac paper (11X5). The two 20¢ stamps, which are on either side of the 10¢ stamp, were once a vertical pair.

The stamps are tied to one another and the cover by a pen cancel. A horizontal file fold is well away from the stamps, which have ample margins for the most part.

An accompanying Philatelic Foundation expertizing certificate issued April 25 states that the cover is a genuine use of the three stamps.

In its catalog description of the cover, H.R. Harmer states that it was part of the firm’s 1948 sale of the 1912 Charnley & Whelan find of St. Louis Bears postal history.

According to the description in the 1948 auction catalog, which H.R. Harmer quotes in the present sale, Charnley & Whelan hired a paper manufacturer to remove waste paper and records from its basement.

“In clearing the paper, [the contractor] discovered a number of entires with stamps upon them and, although no philatelist himself, he had read and heard sufficient to know that these letters might be of some commercial value,” H.R. Harmer said in 1948.

“When he finally made enquiries he was amazed and delighted to learn that he had a veritable philatelic gold-mine.

“The news — and news it certainly was — soon circulated and in due course legal proceedings were taken for the recovery of this ‘paper’ which had become ‘gold.’ Judgement was given however that the contractor was the rightful owner. The further publicity arising from the litigation brought enquiries from the philatelic world and at least one tempting offer.”

That offer was made in 1933, but the owner refused. In due course, the 1948 auction of 71 St. Louis Bears covers realized $43,220, with the unique 1846 cover selling for $4,600, the highest price paid for a single lot.

Today that cover is valued at $325,000 in the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog.

The St. Louis provisional stamps were printed from a copper plate of six positions, arranged two across by three down, engraved by J.M. Kershaw.

During the course of the stamps’ production, the plate was altered twice, resulting in three plate types. The stamps were printed on three different papers: greenish, gray lilac and bluish.

“Although the three states roughly correspond to the three paper types, evidently a small number of stamps from the first alteration were printed on greenish paper, resulting in the extremely rare 20c on greenish,” H.R. Harmer said.

According to H.R. Harmer, just five examples of the 20¢ black on greenish paper are documented. Three are off-cover singles, and the remaining two are on the cover in the current sale.

H.R. Harmer is offering the unique 1846 St. Louis Bears folded letter with an opening bid of $50,000.

The catalogs for the sales of the Crumpacker and Ammons collections of Canal Zone and part 9 of the Erivan collection of U.S. and Confederate States postal history are posted on the H.R. Harmer website. Online bidding options are available for both sales.

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

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