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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column

August 2007




$US9 million stamps to Charity


On June 11 in New York a rather amazing stamp auction took place.

San Francisco billionaire Bill Gross auctioned off his early Great Britain Stamps.

The stamps were invoiced to buyers at $US10,506,400.  The auction had been anticipated to raise "only" $US4 million.

Gross and his wife Sue attended the sale, and were delighted with the result - they then presented their entire proceeds from the sale to a charity after the auction!

The deluxe colour prices realised brochure boasts this was: "the largest grossing single stamp auction even conducted in the USA.  It bested such benchmark sales as the famous Ishikawa USA in 1993, and the Robert Zoellner USA collection sold in 1998."

 "Lady Louis" fetches $US747,500 

  The auction was conducted by Shreves Auction Galleries in Manhattan.  This Suite was where I flew late February along with Arthur Gray and several other local dealers.

The Gray "Kangaroos" sold in that sale for $A7,158,974.00, and the results and highlights have been widely reported by me previously.

I wrote at that time the super professional Shreves operation would be hard to bypass for future top-end vendors, and this sale proves that prediction was true!

 On-line auctions are here 

Of the Bill Gross sale over a THIRD or $US3.1 million of hammer prices went to online bidders, according to Tom Droege, president of Stamp Auction Network - who runs the Shreve (and others) internet auction back-room. 

That $US3.1 million total represented 13 different bidders buying 107 of the 226 different lots.  The firm’s web site says, "This hurdles past any other known record 10 - fold.  Four lots each sold online for more than $100,000,  each breaking records for the highest price paid via the Internet for a philatelic item." 
Indeed the "Lady Louis" cover show nearby sold "live" on the internet for $US747,500 (a clear world record) and the equally nice East Indies Mulready also sold to a live internet bidder for $US517,500.
I watched the superb Droege software in full-on action in February in the same room, and it was quite amazing to see live internet bids, phone bidders, book bids, limit bids, agent bids and floor bids all rapidly and seamlessly competing for each lot! 

$4 million USA "Z Grill"
  The GB collection owner Bill Gross has a personal fortune of $US1.2 billion according to Forbes magazine.  His most famous stamp possession is the USA 1868 1¢  "Z Grill",  the only copy in private hands, and is part of his complete collection of 19th century USA stamps.

When in Washington last June I was fortunate to view both of the two known "Z Grill" stamps when I flew over for the huge "Stamp Expo 2006". As well as gazing at the block of 4 "24¢ Inverted Jenny's" Bill Gross swapped for his "Z Grill."

I wrote a detailed story here in late 2005 outlining how Gross bid $US2.97 million at auction on October 19 for a block of USA stamps he did not need and did not want. (He owns 3 similar blocks 4!)  At that time this was almost exactly $A4 million.

The $4 Million Stamp Swap

Gross (via Charles Shreve) then did a swap of that Plate Block 4 for the USA 1868 1¢ blue "Z Grill" he DID need to make his USA collection 100% complete.  The legendary $4 million stamp swap.

He has won top international awards each time he exhibits his collection.  His bond firm manages investment assets of fixed-income securities worth over $US700 BILLION!

Gross is Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO) of Newport Beach, California.

Clearly 63 year old Bill Gross is a very wealthy man, and in the fine tradition of American philanthropy, he donated the entire results of the sale of his GB stamp collection to charity on the day it was sold.

"Here - take this $9 million!"


The entire hammer price of the GB collection went as an unrestricted gift to Doctors Without Borders.

This donation is the largest ever received by Doctors Without Borders, better known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontières.

Founded in 1971, this is an independent medical organization that delivers emergency and humanitarian aid in more than 70 countries.

Dr. Darin Portnoy, President of the United States division of Doctors Without Borders attended the auction.

Portnoy said that the donation was the largest from the United States in the charity’s 36-year history, and would be used to improve rapid response around the world.

"It gives us a chance to be reactive in many places, and to respond to emergencies'' he said. He said priorities were in areas like Jordan and the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, where war refugees with drastic injuries needed urgent and extensive surgery.

Also in Chad and Sudan, where many refugees from fighting in Darfur and related conflicts are suffering from serious malnutrition.

The photo nearby shows Bill and Sue Gross (on left) handing over a symbolic cheque for the hammer price of $US9,136,000 to a delighted Dr. Portnoy. (All buyers were charged a 15% Buyer Premium by Shreves on top of their purchases.)  Charles Shreve is standing in the background.

Gross, who was at the Shreves Philatelic Galleries in midtown Manhattan for the afternoon sale, said that he purchased the stamps for about $US2.5 million -  mostly since 2000. 

He decided to sell them to aid the charity, and to gauge the market for stamps, in which he's one of the most prominent USA collectors. 
I have no doubt this is the largest stamp related donation in history.

"Better Than The Stock Market"

Bill Gross estimates he has spent between $50 million and $100 million buying stamps.  "It's beyond my expectations''  Gross said of the GB Auction result to Bloomberg's. "It' is four times profit.  It is better than the stock market.''

Coming from the founder of one of the world's largest Bond Funds managing over $US700 BILLION in assets, that is praise indeed for the stamp market!

As Gross purchased the GB stamps for about $2.5 million they sold for well over 4 times what he paid in recent years.

Some of the material sold for about 10 times what Gross had paid less than a decade before.  One such example was the "Lady Louis" cover shown nearby bought at a Spink auction in 1998 as part of the Louis Grunin Mulready envelope collection.

Charles Shreve,  the auctioneer, said many of the prices set records for the individual stamp issues.  Shreve said the figure for the "Lady Louis"
Mulready Envelope was "beyond belief'' - confirming it fetched around 10 times what Gross paid for it.

The Mulready cover to Malta was invoiced for $US747,500 on an estimate of just $75,000-$100,000.  Two of the stamps were repaired and the cover was a little toned, but it has enormous "eye appeal" in my view.


Penny Black Block gets $US1,150,000

  The top selling lot money wise was an 1840 Penny "Block" of 24, that had long ago been separated into a block of 18 and a strip of 6.

In an unusual arrangement, Shreves first auctioned each lot, realising $US425,000 hammer price for the larger block and $US45,000 for the strip.

The re-united block of 24 was then offered to see if the bids for that would exceed the total just offered for the two unjoined multiples!



  This joint offer reached $US1 million from an un-named bidder in the room, thus voiding the first sales.  With the 15% buyer commission added, this block of 24 shown nearby cost that buyer $US1,150,000.

It was not a large offering - only 226 lots, but the Deluxe hardbound 2 volume catalogue set is a "must have" for anyone that collects GB - or just wants a piece of stamp history!  I have a couple of sets still left, or Shreves I am sure can still sell you a set. 

The sale covered not only Queen Victoria, but nicer KEVII and even KGV issues.

The unique in private hands Edward VII 1904 6d violet overprinted "I.R. OFFICIAL" - Stanley Gibbons 023, sold for $US402,500.  I imagine that must be a clear world record price for any 20th Century stamp - from anywhere?

"6d KEVII sold for $US402,500"


  Larger than life figures like Bill Gross are good for the hobby.  When I was flying over for the Washington 2006 show, via San Francisco there was a full page on Gross and his collection in the "San Francisco Chronicle"  broadsheet newspaper that day. 

That is LOT of publicity for stamps, in a massive state.  Gross won the Grand Prix National Award in Washington 2006 for his USA.

"Bill Gross is the consummate stamp collector and an ambassador for the hobby," said Cheryl R. Ganz, Ph.D., Curator of Philately at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington D.C.

"By selecting exquisite examples of outstanding rarities, he has formed collections of legendary status. His exhibits have attracted huge crowds whenever they are displayed," Dr. Ganz concluded.

In closing I like Bill Gross's own summation of stamp collecting - as seen by him.

"It is a process of bringing order from disorder"  Gross said of his collecting.  "It is a common human interest. It is just like wanting to clean your house. It is in our genes."

Gross has recently stated this sale does not mean he is getting out of stamps - quite the opposite. He will continue:  "collecting, buying, selling, swapping and exhibiting stamps as this is truly a life-long hobby for him", according to close friend and auctioneer Charles Shreve.

Good to hear ..... I'll bet my house this is not the LAST time Bill Gross makes headlines in the stamp press!

Tip Of The Year

Sometimes the stamp markets price things in no rational way.
I was recently sourcing an order for some mint £1 Robes "Thin" papers, (SG 178a) and mused aloud to myself I always have ten times more of the "Thick" paper in stock (SG 178) than the thin, despite very similar prices for both.
Asked around to a few other large dealers and they all agreed ..... one seems about 10 times more numerous than the other.
I sell "Thin" for about $A120 in fresh well centred MUH, and NICE copies of  the "Thick" for about $100.  Of course the correct technical distinction is "Ordinary" and "Chalk Surfaced" paper, but "Thin" and "Thick" are terms we use locally almost exclusively.
The two stamps are VERY easily picked apart visually - the "Thin" being a far deeper colour, and printed FAR less crisply and sharply than was possible on the superb smooth, chalk coated "Thick" paper.
On the photo nearby the "Thin" paper is the stamp on the bottom.  The differences in appearance are readily visible. Looking at the reverse the "Thin" paper shows the watermark far more clearly and sharply on both mint or used copies. 
I referred to the excellent Australasian Commonwealth Specialist Catalogue ("ACSC") new "KGVI" edition to see if print figures tell us anything.  I was amazed.
These figure have NEVER been public or published before, as Editor Geoff Kellow keeps coming up with new data for each new ACSC edition based on his archival research.
I spoke with Geoff Kellow today and he assures me his new research is correct, and that this tiny print run for the £1 "Thin" paper is totally accurate.


Worth 3 Times Today's Level?

Here they are - the first time these figures have been published in magazines or journals - anywhere. 
Only 160,000 were ever printed in just a single printing, of the £1 1949 "Thin" paper  - versus 1,920,000 of the "Thick Paper" (Chalky surfaced) issue of 1937. 
My typical stock levels over the past 30 years of around ten to one are borne out rather perfectly by the printing figures above.
Remember that the 1937 issue was HEAVILY bought up mint by immediate post-war "Black Money War Profiteer" type speculators. 
Older dealers can confirm these traded under face wholesale for decades until decimal currency in 1966, and many dealers swapped them face for face for the new Decimal issues, as the PO permitted such deals back then.
The 1945 Duke Of Gloucester issue was bought up nearly entirely by "Black Money" speculators, and even today sells wholesale for under face value!  I still get offered 1000's sets in MUH sheets from relatives of these people.

Buy £1 Thin paper NOW!

The "Thin" paper £1 stamp not being face different, did not attract much interest at all from the stamp trade, much less any speculators, as the "Hot Money" was long gone by mid 1949.
The proof of the fact scant attention was paid to the paper change by collectors of the time, is that only 3 FDC's of this £1 "Thin" stamp are recorded, and it is rare - being cat in ACSC at $7,500 on FDC.
This top value on "Thin" paper was first issued only in April 1949, and was replaced in late 1949 by the £1 "Arms", so useage was truly minimal.  Much of that use was on telegrams, and for bulk postage payments - neither of which generally reached the stamp market as used copies. 
As if to prove that point, genuine dated fine USED copies of the "Thin" are nearly non-existent.  Many hinged or toned copies get "CTO'd" even to this day, but to my mind a lovely 1949 dated example is worth at LEAST as much as a MUH copy. 


Genuine USED copies rare

Indeed exactly as a superb 1930s postal used 5/- Bridge is today worth twice a CTO copy, these £1 Robes "Thin" with neat 1949 cds should be worth twice a MUH copy - in my view.
Geoff Kellow agreed with me today that 1949 dated copies are quite rare, and pointed out Rodney Perry advises he has only ever seen one £1 "Thin" robes on cover or parcel piece in 40 years of searching. 
Rod confirmed that with me today, and agreed that there should be a significant premium for correct cancel used copies over Mint.  He said double the mint price was not out of line for a genuine dated contemporary cancels.  
Conversely a used "Thick" stamp sells for about a third of a MUH copy. Which in my view is about correct.
In short, my "TIP OF 2007" for anyone who likes a challenge, is to tuck away a little supply of this stamp in fresh well centred MUH, or in VFU dated used.
Buy from REPUTEABLE dealers.  Some of the cowboys on places like ebay delight in misdescribing "Thick" paper copies as "Thin" and getting far more than they should, and the vast army of ebay Bunny Buyers as always, hoover up the fiction.
Please do not ask ME for either, as I have almost no stocks.  This is not an ad, but a genuine tip for readers about a wildly under-rated stamp. The market price for the MUH "Thin" really should be at least DOUBLE the "Thick", i.e. at about the $A200-300 level for nice copies.  
Let's be sensible about price levels - the 1935 £1 Grey "CofA" Kangaroo (SG 137) that preceded this stamp sells for $2,000 in MUH.  Even so it is rather plentiful, and 600,000 were printed. 
Used copies are still pretty plentiful and yet a nice VFU one is getting to the $400 mark these days.  There is no reason in my mind that a "Thin" paper genuine FU £1 Robes should not be a similar price, as it certainly is many times scarcer.






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