24¢ steel blue Washington block surpasses $86,000 in Siegel auction

May 2, 2021, 6 PM

By Matthew Healey, New York Correspondent

Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries offered a series of sales of U.S. and Confederate States stamps and postal history at their New York offices Dec. 15-18.

A “European connoisseur’s collection” of classic United States that crossed the block Dec. 15 held a number of gems resurfacing on the market for the first time since being sold as part of the collection of Alfred H. Caspary in 1956.

A well-centered, lightly hinged original gum block of six of the 1861 24¢ Washington in a crisp shade of steel blue (Scott 70b) was described as “magnificent” and the largest recorded surviving multiple of the issue.

The 1861 24¢ was printed in a variety of shades, ranging from red lilac to pale gray violet. Even single examples of the desirable steel-blue shade with original gum are elusive, and a block of six represents an outstanding rarity.

At one time, the block belonged to the well-known collector George H. Worthington, who exhibited it at the 1913 International Philatelic Exhibition in New York, the first such show in the United States and a historic precursor to World Stamp Show-NY 2016. The item is specifically mentioned in the catalog for the 1913 show as one of the highlights.

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The block was sold at auction in 1917 for $1,150, according to the Siegel sale catalog, and was probably bought then by Caspary, in whose collection sale it next appeared in 1956, when it sold for $1,900.

It was likely then bought by the anonymous “European connoisseur” whose collection is featured in the current Siegel sale, marking this as only its third time on the market in a century. Indeed, Siegel noted its excellent state of preservation and fresh color as indicators of its having been hidden out of sight for a long time.

The block brought $86,250, including the 15 percent buyer’s premium levied by Siegel.

Another stellar item was an 1861 5¢ buff Jefferson (Scott 67), among the rarest shades of the 1861-66 stamps and “arguably the finest copy in existence,” being not only sound but well-centered with deep, rich color.

“Collectors who have pursued this rarity without success could well drive the realization into record-setting territory,” trumpeted the Siegel catalog.

This proved true: against a Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers value of $27,500, the stamp realized $60,375.

The top item in Siegel’s Dec. 17-18 sale of Confederate States of America material was a full unused pane of 100 of the first general-issue Confederate stamp, the 5¢ green Jefferson Davis stamp of 1861 (Scott Confederate States of America 1).

The only such full pane surviving, it was once part of a full sheet of 200 that belonged to Rep. Ernest Ackerman (1863-1961).

This stamp was printed by lithography, a process in which the mutually repelling properties of oil and water are used to print a design from a flat stone surface onto a sheet of paper.

While the printing stone is being prepared, the stamp design is transferred back and forth in larger and larger multiples via intermediary transfer stones. A final transfer stone of 50 impressions was used to make up the stone that printed the full sheet of the 5¢.

The so-called Ackerman sheet is the only surviving full pane. The other half of the sheet has since been divided into two blocks of 50, each representing a full transfer.

The sheet has been used over the decades as the basis for much scholarship on the first Confederate issue, especially the “plating,” or mapping of the minute design differences between each stamp position in the sheet.

Even at a casual glance, one can see when looking at the pane of 100 that the slight misalignment of individual stamp cliches forms a repeating pattern from the upper five rows to the lower five rows.

Called “unquestionably one of the most important items in all of United States and Confederate philately,” the sheet comfortably exceeded its presale estimate to bring $57,500.