US stamp treasures fetch over $10 million in landmark sale


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03 October 2018
The recent sale of William H Gross' collection of USA stamps reached a total sale price of $10,003,155, in what has been called 'the greatest US stamp auction in history'.

The sale, which took place at Robert A Siegel Auction Galleries in New York, is the first of four high-profile sales which will see the sale of the unrivalled collection created by bond manager and world-renowned investor, Bill Gross.

Since 2007, Gross has been selling the world famous stamps in his collection, donating the funds from the sales to good causes including Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières and the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. This time the money will go to Doctors Without Borders and The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.

Writing in the introduction to the auction catalogue, Charles F. Shreve and Tracy L. Carey said: 'Thank you, Bill, for your trust, kindness and willingness to let us participate with you in building a United States philatelic collection that will be talked about and admired for generations to come.'

Highlights of the much-anticipated sale included a unique unused 'Bible Block' of six 10¢ 1847 First General Issue stamps (pictured below), so called because it was discovered in a bible more than a century ago. The block is the largest known to exist in unused condition, and research before the sale has revealed that the original 'bible' block was made up of ten stamps, with an accompanying block of four having been sold at auction in 1946.

The block of six was sold for $500,000 (approximately £380,995).

The highest price paid during the sale was for a unique block of the 24¢ 1869 pictorial stamp with an inverted centre error, said to be 'the most important item in United States philately'. The block of four shows cork cancels of New York City, with the centre inverted and so appearing upside down in relation to the frame. 

The block was discovered in a Liverpool merchant’s correspondence files, in around 1888 after it has been used on correspondence from the USA some twenty years earlier, and was first sold for £5.

The block sold for an eye-watering $625,000 (£476,243).

Another 'worldy' on offer in the auction was the 2¢ Blue 'Hawaiian Missionary' stamp, the only unused example and the finest among the fifteen recorded, of which ten are in private hands. The stamp, described as 'one of the world’s rarest, most iconic and most valuable stamps' fetched $525,000 (£400,044).

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The range of beautiful USA covers in the sale included a 'Prince Edward Pony' cover, which is said to be unique in three important respects, being the only Pony Express cover sent to Prince Edward Island, the only $2 'Horse & Rider' stamp on a cover to a foreign destination, and the only combination of the 5¢ 1860 issue with a Pony Express stamp. The auction catalogue continued: 'based on these facts, it is rightfully acclaimed one of the most outstanding covers in United States postal history.'

The cover sold for $300,000 (£228,597).

Meanwhile, fancy cancels aded some colour and variety to the sale and, despite not fetching the kind of headline-grabbing prices of other lots, many achieved impressive prices, easily surpassing their pre-sale estimates. Examples included a 'Clown in Top Hat of Waterbury, Connecticut' cancel, which fetched $15,500 (£11,810) against an estimate of $2,000 to $3,000; and a 'Circus Elephant of Waterbury, Connecticut' seen on cover, which sold for $37,500 (£28,574).

The next instalment in the four-sale series will take place in spring 2019.

Find out more about the sale and see all the lots on the Robert A Siegel Auction Galleries website.

Prices shown are excluding buyers' premium. Images: Robert A Siegel.