Hall collection sale shows strength of U.S. stamp market

May 12, 2015, 6 AM

 In a further sign that demand for high-end United States stamps remains robust, Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York reported strong results for its April 28-30 sale of the Robert R. Hall collection.

“The U.S. stamp market is deep enough and strong enough to absorb a $5.75 million sale of 1,000 lots in three days,” wrote Siegel’s president, Scott R. Trepel, in an e-mail to Linn’s after the sale.

The sale, which was previewed in the April 20 issue of Linn’s, featured mint and used U.S. classics, as well as blocks and larger multiples.

“The top items performed in line with estimates,” Trepel said.

“High-quality stamps drew fire, and Special Printings found buyers at solid price levels,” he added, referring to government-issued reprints made between 1875 and 1880 of classic U.S. stamps.

The full results of the sale, as well as a free, downloadable version of the 370-page catalog, can be found at the Siegel website.

Hall (1926-2011) built a collection with his sons that was impressive in its scope, running to some 20 volumes.

A horticulturist by profession, Hall made fortuitous land purchases for his flower-growing business in California after World War II, which led to his becoming wealthy as the state developed.

The top hammer price went to a stamp, or rather pair of stamps, that doesn’t often appear on the market: one of America’s first government-issued coil stamps, the 1¢ Franklin of 1908, perforated 12 horizontally (Scott 316).

The stamp expert Max Johl described the experiment in which 200-stamp sheets of definitives from the series of 1902-03, printed on a flat-plate press, were perforated gauge 12 in one direction only, cut into strips of 20 and manually pasted up into rolls of 500 or 1,000.

These rolls were not sold in post offices, but distributed only to the firms vying to perfect newly popular vending machines, and collectors at the time paid little attention to the varieties.

Before the end of 1908, the post office switched to the new Washington-Franklin series. Only a dozen pairs and one single of Scott 316 survive.

The pair in the Hall sale, once a strip of three, was certified by the Philatelic Foundation. The Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers notes that a certificate is vital for early coil issues, as the more plentiful perforated or imperforate stamps are often fraudulently altered to look like coil stamps.

The pair sold for $356,500. All results include the 15 percent buyer’s premium that Siegel adds to all lots.

A 4¢ Grant stamp issued imperforate but perforated privately (Scott 314A) was another star of the Hall collection.

In 1908, the post office supplied 25 sheets of 400 of the 4¢ stamps to the Schermack company of Detroit, which was experimenting with making up its own coils and giving them perforations of its own design, specially suited to its stamp-affixing machines for mass-mailing firms.

The oblong separations on Scott 314A, which look like two little rectangles instead of the more typical row of little round holes, are known to collectors as Schermack Type III perfs.

Around the time they were issued, a Detroit stamp dealer named Karl Koslowski managed to obtain 50 of the 4¢ coil stamps, either from Schermack or from one of the mailing firms. He used a few himself; the 21 or so he retained are the only unused examples known today. Just two examples — a single, plus a single stamp that is half of a still-joined pair — survive in mint, never-hinged condition.

The unique, never-hinged single in the Hall collection, described as an “extremely fine gem,” brought $230,000.

An unused pair of the so-called Orangeburg coil, the scarce 3¢ Washington coil stamp of 1911 (Scott 389), fetched $207,000.

Named for the small New York town where a pharmaceutical lab received a special order of 3¢ coil stamps to use on third-class mail for sending out samples to doctors, the Orangeburg coil exists in a quantity of just six unused pairs and a couple of singles available to collectors. Used examples are more plentiful: one in the Hall sale brought $4,600.

Going back to the 19th century, a couple of 5¢ stamps stood out. An imperforate 5¢ red brown Jefferson of 1856 (Scott 12), with full margins, part original gum and no faults, seems to have been a good buy at $10,350.

Its perforated sibling, in the scarce Indian red shade (Scott 28A), with a trace of original gum, sold for $66,125. It was described as extremely rare, as only five of the 11 unused examples known have any trace of gum at all. The last time Siegel offered this example of the stamp, in the 1999 Argentum sale, it fetched $33,000.

An attractive, very lightly canceled example of the 1851 1¢ Franklin stamp, known as type I because the scrollwork at top and bottom of the stamp is intact (Scott 5), went for $51,750.

The 12¢ black Washington stamp of the so-called “first designs” of 1861, once listed as Scott 59 but since reclassified as an essay and listed as 69-E6e, is the first-design stamp with the most obvious differences from its issued counterpart, lacking the ovals and scrolls at the corners and sides.

The example in the Hall sale, “ranked among the top quarter of the population” of merely 16, brought an impressive $92,000.

Inverted-center errors of the bicolor pictorial stamps of 1869 were also in the Hall collection. The 15¢ and 24¢ were “presentable” examples that went for appropriate sums, but the 30¢ (Scott 121b) was outstanding.

Thirty-seven used examples of the 30¢ invert are recorded, of which just three — like the one in the Hall collection — have what Siegel called “perfect” centering and are sound. It sold for $149,500.

The special printings of 1875 are notoriously scarcer than the original stamps in most cases. Among several that did well in the Hall sale, a 3¢ blue green Washington (Scott 194) sold for $126,500. Fourteen are known.

A 5¢ deep blue Tyler special printing (Scott 204) with “beautiful” centering, one of 18, fetched $195,500.

A “phenomenal” jumbo used example of the 10¢ Columbian commemorative of 1893 (Scott 237), which in ordinary very-fine condition catalogs a mere $9 and in superb condition with a grade of 98 is valued in the “U.S. Specialized by Grade” section of the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog at $650, went for $1,495. Superlatives do mean something.

Blocks, which Trepel had said before the sale would likely offer “opportunities,” did indeed see some bargain realizations.

“There was a bit of weakness in classic multiples, but that’s always been a market that ebbs and flows,” Trepel said afterward.

An original gum foursome of the 1857-60 5¢ brown Jefferson, type I (Scott 29), one of just three blocks known, went for $23,000, while an original-gum block of the 1875 reissue of the 1863 2¢ Black Jack (103), one of just two known, went for $29,900. Both had been estimated at $90,000.

An original-gum block of the 1861 90¢ blue Washington (Scott 72), estimated at $32,500, went for $5,750.

There was no such weakness when it came to one of the most anticipated lots of the sale, a block of four of the inverted-center 4¢ Electric Automobile in Washington stamp from the Pan-American Exposition series of 1901.

Unlike the 1¢ and 2¢ inverts from that series, which were discovered at post offices around the country (and occasionally used on mail), the 4¢ was a special printing. Only seven blocks have been recorded, not all of which likely survive. The Hall block, with a few tiny faults, sold for $287,500.

Last but not least, the famous 24¢ Inverted Jenny airmail error of 1918 (Scott C3a), position 69 from the original sheet of 100, was noted as “one of the widest-margined and freshest examples” of the stamp.

Though lightly hinged, it is absent any of the faults that plague some of its less fortunate sisters. Trepel said he was “very pleased” with the $345,000 it sold for.