Bill Gross’ finest achievement, a complete collection of classic United States stamps, to cross Siegel auction block June 14-15

May 27, 2024, 8 AM

By Charles Snee

William H. “Bill” Gross’ phenomenal three-decade run as an enthusiastic collector of the greatest rarities of United States philately will come to an end June 14-15 when Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries gavels down his finest achievement: a complete collection of classic-era stamps.

This remarkable collection is being offered by Charles F. Shreve and Tracy L. Carey in association with Siegel. Both Shreve and Carey have worked closely with Gross throughout his quest.

“This is, without question, the most significant and most valuable collection of United States stamps formed this past half century,” Shreve said. “Its appearance at public auction will be a historic event, where all of the rarest and most sought-after stamps issued by the United States will be offered for sale … ”

The top 100 rarest and most valuable lots will be sold beginning at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, June 14, in the Drawing Room of the Villard Mansion at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel, 455 Madison Ave. (between 50th and 51st streets), in Manhattan. According to Siegel, cocktails and light hors d’oeuvres will be served in the library from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.

The remaining stamps in the collection (lots 101-317) will be offered Saturday, June 15, beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern Time at the Collectors Club, 58 W. 40th St. (between Fifth and Sixth avenues), in Manhattan.

Shreve told Linn’s that, with the exception of the set of 1875 Continental Bank Note Co. special printings of the 1¢ through 90¢ Official stamps (lot 100), all lots to be offered June 14 have new 2024 Philatelic Foundation certificates.

“Almost all of the stamps offered on [June 15] have certificates, but buyers can request extensions to obtain updated certificates if they desire,” Shreve said.

Siegel announced the upcoming June sale of the collection on March 11.

One of the philatelic crown jewels of the collection is an 1868 1¢ blue Benjamin Franklin stamp with a Z grill (Scott 85A), known to collectors as the 1¢ Z grill.

Two examples of this iconic stamp are recorded. The other is in the New York Public Library collection, which is on long-term loan to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. The latter stamp has been held by the New York Public Library since 1925 as part of the Benjamin K. Miller collection.

The 1¢ Z grill in the Gross collection will be up for bids at an auction for the first time in 26 years.

The current $3 million value for the 1¢ Z grill in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers is based on the 2005 trade between Shreve (representing Gross) and Don Sundman of Mystic Stamp Co. of the 1918 24¢ Jenny Invert plate block for which Gross had paid $2.97 million for the 1¢ Z grill that Sundman had acquired in 1998 for $935,000. Gross’ acquisition of the 1¢ Z grill completed his U.S. collection.

Another famous stamp in the collection is the finest of three unused examples of the 1851 1¢ blue type I Franklin (Scott 5). This stamp is often referred to as “7R1E,” identifying it as coming from position 7 of the right pane on plate 1, early state, which is the only position of 200 on the early plate 1 to show a complete design and ornaments.

The stamp is from a strip of three that once resided in the Ferrari collection.

The other two stamps, which exist as a pair today, are type Ib (Scott 5A). That type is like the type I stamp, except the balls below the bottom label are not as clear, and the plumelike scrolls at the bottom are incomplete, according to the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog.

According to Siegel, the unused Scott 5 single and the 5A pair will be offered as two separate lots in the June 14 auction.

Siegel estimates the unused example of Scott 5 at $200,000 to $300,000, well above the current $115,000 value in the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog.

Gross’ storied collection is housed in an unassuming Scott U.S. National album.

The album “has always been his favorite, offering not just a visual feast of the rarest and best of U.S. stamps, but representing the collecting goal of every collector, from beginner to advanced ... completion,” Shreve and Scott Trepel, president of Siegel Auction Galleries, said in their March 11 announcement.

“Between the singles in his National album and the multiples in his exhibit collection, Mr. Gross succeeded in checking off every Scott number on his want list over a period of 13 years,” Shreve and Trepel said. “With the acquisition of the One-cent Z Grill … in 2005, every space in his album was filled.”

The magnitude of Gross’ accomplishment is succinctly captured by just one page from his album. That page, illustrated above, features the 13 1867-68 grilled stamps printed by the National Bank Note Co.: three with A grill (Scott 79-80), one with B grill (82), one with C grill (83), two with D grill (84-85), and six with Z grill (85A-85F).

The famed 1868 1¢ Z grill is mounted in the first space in the fourth row of stamps on the album page.

All told, those 13 stamps have a 2024 Scott catalog value of $7,382,000.

“Only one collector has a chance to fill every space on that page!” Shreve told Linn’s. “With the One Cent ‘Z’ Grill being unique in private hands it is the lynchpin to a complete collection and to filling that page.”

“Scott [Trepel] and I can think of a handful of collectors who will view this upcoming opportunity to complete that page in their lifetimes and we suspect they will aggressively try,” Shreve said.

However, deep-pocketed philatelists likely will have competition from another group of keen collectors.

“We also think there will be some interested bidders who just like to buy ‘trophy’ items, like the rarest coin, the finest Rolex watch, etc.,” Shreve said.

“The One Cent ‘Z’ Grill is the trophy item of U.S. philately and interested trophy item buyers might add to the mix of interested bidders the evening of June 14,” Shreve said.

When pressed to pick a top three list from the forthcoming sale, Shreve emphatically replied, “It’s impossible! It’s like asking someone which child you like better than the other.”

“If you forced me to pick three, the first has to be the One Cent ‘Z’ Grill [lot 31], followed by the amazing Alexandria, VA Postmaster Provisional [lot 1], and the set of three unused 1869 Pictorials with inverted centers [lots 40-42],” he said.

“And if someone really wants to claim having a complete U.S. stamp collection they cannot pass up the unique Scott #164, the 24c Continental Printing Bank Note [lot 45],” Shreve continued. “It’s just as rare (unique) as the more famous [1¢] ‘Z’ Grill, but equally an important item to acquire.”

Of the trio of unused 1869 Pictorial inverts in the collection, the no gum example of the 30¢ Eagle and Shield (Scott 121b) possesses the best centering and freshness.

In the catalog description of the stamp, Siegel states that “the flags and eagle-and-shield are rich in color and printed with proof-like impressions, bright fresh paper, extraordinarily precise centering with wide margins all around.”

“Our census of the 30¢ 1869 Invert contains seven unused stamps and 40 used stamps, including used copies in the Miller collection owned by The New York Public Library and the Tapling collection at the British Library,” Siegel said. “Of the seven unused examples, only one has original gum, which was sold in our 2013 auction of the ‘Beverly Hills’ collection for $690,000 hammer (including 15% premium). The other six have no gum. The original-gum example is sound, as are three of the copies without gum (census nos. 2, 3 and 4).”

The provenance of the stamp in the Gross collection reads like a who’s who of philatelic excellence, having passed through the collections of Arthur Hind, Philip H. Ward Jr., Benjamin D. Phillips and Ryohei Ishikawa.

Gross acquired the famous invert for $115,500 during the 1993 Christie’s sale of the Ishikawa collection.

Against a Scott U.S. Specialized catalog value of $200,000, Siegel is offering this marvelous unused 1869 30¢ Pictorial invert with an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.

Near the end of the June 14 top 100 sale is another historic error: a 1918 24¢ carmine and blue airmail stamp with the blue center inverted (Scott C3a), popularly known as the Jenny Invert.

The stamp, from position 69 in the discovery pane of 100 that was purchased May 14, 1918, by William T. Robey for its $24 face value in Washington, D.C., is unused with lightly hinged original gum, according to Siegel.

When Robey realized what he had found, he knew that he could reap a significant profit beyond the $24 face value he paid for the pane.

On May 19, 1918, five days after he bought the pane, “Robey agreed to give Eugene Klein, a prominent Philadelphia stamp dealer, a one-day option to buy the sheet for $15,000,” Siegel said in the auction catalog.

“Klein exercised his option on Monday, May 20, in a late afternoon phone call, and he confirmed it with a registered letter to Robey sent in the evening mail,” Siegel said. “The sheet was delivered to Klein’s office by Robey and his father-in-law on the following day, Tuesday, May 21, 1918.”

“No later than Monday, May 20, the day Klein exercised his option, he had arranged to sell the sheet for $20,000 to Colonel Edward H. R. Green,” Siegel said. “Half of the $5,000 profit went to Klein’s partners, Percy McGraw Mann and Joseph A. Steinmetz. Klein was then authorized by Colonel Green to divide the sheet into singles and blocks, and to sell all but a few key position blocks.”

With a nod to the historic and future ramifications of the find, Klein used a pencil to carefully number the position of each error stamp on its back before the process of separating them began.

A few of those numbers have since been removed (in at least one case to disguise the identity of a stolen stamp), but the stamp from position 69 still bears its original two-digit marking, visible on the back at bottom right (not shown).

According to Siegel, after Gross gave blocks of the Jenny Invert that he had acquired to his children, he needed a single to fill the space in his Scott National album.

“In 2015, with the sale of the Robert R. Hall collection by Siegel, Mr. Gross found an opportunity to fill the blank space with Position 69,” Siegel said. With the 15 percent buyer’s premium at the time, Gross paid $345,000 for the stamp.

In unused condition and very fine grade, a Jenny Invert is valued at $450,000 in the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog. Siegel is offering the position 69 stamp with an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.

(A wealth of additional information about the iconic Jenny Invert is available on Siegel’s specialized website fort the iconic error stamp.)

The June 15 sale at the Collectors Club will present the remaining 217 lots, beginning with the 1845-47 postmasters’ provisionals and continuing through special delivery and Official stamps. Nine balance lots will conclude the two-day action.

One of those balance lots features unused 1870-88 Bank Note issues and has a Scott catalog value of approximately $11,000. Virtually all the stamps have original gum, and 26 are accompanied by expertizing certificates issued in the 1980s and 1990s, according to Siegel.

Among the mint, never-hinged stamps are Scott 136 (with split grill), 146, 148, 149, 150, 156-158, 160-161, 178-179, 182-186, 205-207, 209-211, 212-215 and 217, Siegel said.

Siegel is offering this impressive 1870-88 Bank Note balance lot with an estimate of $4,000 to $5,000.

Gross, 80, is a bond market expert who co-founded Pacific Investment Management Co. in 1971. He joined Janus Capital Group in 2014.

He emerged some 30 years ago as the world’s leading collector of U.S. stamps, while also assembling remarkable collections of stamps and postal history of Hawaii, Great Britain, France, Switzerland and more.

Many of those other collections have since been auctioned, with millions in proceeds from those sales donated to charitable institutions, including Doctors Without Borders and the Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute.

Gross was also the primary benefactor of the William H. Gross Gallery, which opened in 2013 at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

Gross’ philatelic connections with Shreve and Carey began with a phone call that Shreve received in December 1992. At that time, both Shreve and Carey were working at the Ivy, Shreve & Mader philatelic auction house.

“When he called, he asked for me, but I didn’t recognize his name,” Shreve told Linn’s Stamp News May 7. “He said, ‘I would like to arrange to spend $1 million in your upcoming sale.’ ”

Needless to say, Shreve was quite surprised. “I didn’t think the whole auction was worth $1 million,” he recalled.

As it turned out, Linn’s played a key role in connecting Shreve with Gross.

“He called us because he thought our ad in Linn’s was the most professional looking of all Linn’s advertisers at that time,” Shreve said.

Shreve said that Gross was finding his way as a collector and student of U.S. philately at that time.

“He asked me to call him the night before the 1993 Ishikawa sale,” Shreve said. “He asked me which items were important.”

(Shreve is referring to the Sept. 28-29, 1993, Christie’s auction of the stellar collection of U.S. 1847-69 stamps and covers formed by Ishikawa.)

Shreve then proceeded to take Gross through the entire Ishikawa sale catalog, answering Gross’ questions and identifying the important pieces that Gross should consider acquiring.

“ ‘How would you like to proceed?’ I asked him,” Shreve said. “He replied, ‘If I can get all of them, that would be great.’ ”

“We spent several million dollars at the Ishikawa sale,” Shreve said.

In the years that followed, Shreve and Carey worked closely with Gross to continue acquiring important stamps and postal history as they came to market.

According to Shreve, Gross’ “initial interest was to build ‘an important collection of United States stamps,’ with a particular interest in trying to acquire every major Scott number in unused/mint condition (used, if it only existed that way, i.e. the 1¢ and 15¢ “Z” Grills [Scott 85A and 85F, respectively])”.

“His quest was no different than every collector’s dream — to fill every space in his album,” Shreve said. “But, in his case, he had the financial means to try to be successful. He quickly learned that it also takes patience and determination, as some of the rarest stamps might not appear for 20 years or more.”

“The 1993 Christie’s sale [of the Ishikawa collection] really opened his eyes to what else that could be collected in U.S. philately,” Shreve recalled. “That’s when he started augmenting his collection with important multiples and postal history.”

Siegel held the first of what would be a series of five Gross U.S. collection sales on Oct. 3, 2018. That sale featured what Siegel called “treasures,” such as the largest recorded unused multiple of the 1847 5¢ Franklin stamp (Scott 1), a block of 16.

In 2019, Siegel sold two parts of the Gross U.S. collection: a spectacular array of multiples on May 8-9, and more than 500 lots of eye-catching postal history (including a marvelous selection of Waterbury, Conn., fancy cancels) on Oct. 29-30.

Crossing the auction block for the fourth sale on Oct. 27-29, 2020, was Gross’ unparalleled collection of the 1847 issue.

Shreve recounted the events that took place before that first Gross collection sale in 2018.

“When Mr. Gross decided it was time to sell his U.S. holdings he had me come out to California to pick up ‘everything,’ which I did,” Shreve told Linn’s. “Except he said leave the single [Scott National] album behind.”

“I was initially disappointed, but how could I be when I was going to be able to sell his magnificent holdings of rare multiples and plate blocks, fantastic postal history, and easily the finest specialized holding of the 5c and 10c First Issues of the U.S. — Scott #1 and #2,” Shreve recalled.

“Scott Trepel and I together mapped out a marketing strategy that would spread out the sale of the material as to not overwhelm the marketplace and to ensure all of his material would realize the highest possible prices,” Shreve said. “That’s why the first of his four sales was the [2018] ‘Treasures’ sale to elicit worldwide publicity in an auction that featured many of the most iconic pieces known in U.S. philately.”

For this fifth and final Gross U.S. collection sale, Siegel expects strong and determined bidding. It's possible that some records will have been broken by the time the gavel drops on the final lot on June 15.

“Siegel’s experts anticipate the entire [June 14-15] auction will realize $15 to $20 million, with several individual stamps breaking the $1 million mark and the collection’s rarest stamp — the 1868 One-cent ‘Z’ Grill — on track to become the most valuable American postage stamp with an estimate of $4 to $5 million,” Siegel told Linn’s in a March 11 email.

Regardless of the financial outcome of the final Gross U.S. collection sale, Shreve is grateful for all that has transpired during his more than three decades of collaboration with Gross, whom he considers a close friend.

“I have been incredibly lucky and honored to help Mr. Gross in the building of what will always be known as one of the finest, if not the finest, holdings of U.S. stamp and postal history rarities ever formed,” Shreve said.

“It’s been an extraordinary ride for more than 30 years,” Shreve said. “I was blessed to be part of it.”

Siegel has prepared a detailed catalog for the Gross U.S. Complete sale featuring meticulously researched lot descriptions, provenance details, relevant illustrations and other exceptional production factors that characterize the catalogs produced for the quartet of previous Gross U.S. collection auctions.

The catalog will be sent to clients who regularly receive printed catalogs, Siegel said.

For more information about the June 14-15 auction of the Gross collection of U.S. stamps, contact Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, 21 W. 38th St., Seventh Floor, New York, NY 10018.

Potential bidders may also contact Trepel at, phone 212-753-6421; or Shreve at, or 214-754-5991.

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