Oldest-known letter posted through the mails from Florida shines at Siegel sale

Apr 30, 2021, 7 AM

Auction Roundup — By Matthew Healey

Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York held a series of sales the second week of May, beginning with U.S. and Confederate postal history May 9-10.

Some of the earliest items of American postal history consist of colonial-era letters from the south, when these areas belonged to France, Spain, and Britain.

The sale included the oldest-known letter posted through the mails from Florida, sent from St. Augustine to Virginia in 1767. This was during a period when Florida belonged to Britain — it would revert to Spain again in 1783.

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The letter traveled by ship via Philadelphia. A manuscript “Sh. 6” indicates that postage of 6 pence was collected — 2p for the ship passage and 4p for the overland trip to its destination in Norfolk. It sold for $24,780, including the 18 percent buyer’s premium Siegel attaches to all results.

On May 10, Siegel offered duplicate items from Steven Walske’s collection of French and Spanish Royal Packet mail and North American blockade-run mail from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War.

Walske has devoted much of his collecting life to studying what he terms “mail systems under stress,” especially in times of war. His original research, exhibits, and publications have contributed much to our understanding of the postal history of various conflicts. His exhibits can be viewed in PDF form at

The sale included a folded letter sent in 1792 from New Orleans, then a Spanish settlement, to France — one of just three Spanish Royal Packet letters to France surviving from this era.

It bears two postal markings: a simple “Yndias,” referring to the West Indies, and a fancy “Nueva Orleans” in a wreath. The letter arrived in Spain after a two-month voyage and then proceeded overland to Bordeaux. It sold for $24,780.

On May 11-12, Siegel held a sale of U.S. stamps, including the famous McCoy Position 76 Inverted Jenny.

This iconic airmail error stamp with the upside-down airplane (Scott C3a) had been stolen in 1955 when it was part of a block of four exhibited by Ethel B. McCoy, one of the leading collectors of her time.

Half the block was recovered before Mrs. McCoy died, while the other two were willed by her to the American Philatelic Research Library.

The stamps’ whereabouts remained a mystery for six decades until, thanks in part to a $50,000 reward underwritten by Donald Sundman of Mystic Stamp Co., one of the lost inverts surfaced last year.

At a dramatic press conference in front of an actual Curtiss JN-4 (“Jenny”) biplane on display at World Stamp Show-NY 2016, the stamp was returned to the library with the blessing of the FBI and U.S. attorney Preet Bharara.

Its sale, for $295,000, was reported in detail in Linn’s issue of May 29. The proceeds will be used by the APRL to pay down some of the debt on its recent renovation of its headquarters in Bellefonte, Pa.

Less infamous but no less beautiful, the offerings in the rest of the two-day sale included a range of superlative mint stamps, including a mint never-hinged 8¢ Washington-Franklin stamp, perforated 12 with a single-line USPS watermark (Scott 380), graded gem-100 jumbo.

According to Siegel, this is the only example so far to have achieved this perfect grade. It found a new owner for $15,930.

On May 12, Siegel also offered the “Vaquero” collection of U.S. proofs and essays, a remarkable assembly of trial designs and production tests that illustrate how some of our most familiar and beloved stamp designs evolved into their final form.

A beautiful essay of the 90¢ Lincoln stamp from the 1869 Pictorial series shows an early version of the border, printed in dark navy blue with a small numeral “90” in the upper corners, with the vignette of Lincoln in black pasted into the center (Scott 122-E4a). The essay sold for $944.

The border design would later be modified to enlarge the denominations, as seen on the issued stamp. In our modern era of ubiquitous computers and graphics software, it is easy to forget that once upon a time, designs had to be developed by hand in this manner for presentation to the approving authorities.

The post office prepared trial color proofs of many U.S. stamps, including the 1869 Pictorials, for display at the International Cotton Exhibition in Atlanta in 1881.

While most stamps were printed in five different colors, the 90¢ Lincoln, as a bicolor stamp, was produced in twice that many combinations. [Some of these trial color versions were used in a 1989 souvenir sheet issued for World Stamp Expo (Scott 2433).]

One sheet of 100 of each was printed, making the Atlanta trial color proofs scarce, but not rare — with one exception.

A proof of the 90¢ Lincoln with the border in green and the vignette in black is known, and it is unique (Scott 132TC4g). Described as “the key to a truly complete set” of the Atlanta trial color proofs, it sold for $10,620.