5 top picks from the Bill Gross US stamp collection sale

The day has arrived. Robert A Siegel has finally revealed some of the lots that will feature in the first of four auctions of Bill Gross' US postage stamp collection.

Notable by its absence in the September sale is "Bond King" Gross’ famous block of four Inverted Jennys, for which he paid $2.9m in 2005. However, that’s not a huge surprise. Gross has always maintained he’ll never sell it and it seems he’s kept to his word on that.

The July 2, 1847 Washington 10c cover, the earliest example of the first US postage stamp on a cover, is also missing. While other sales will take place in the following months, the tradition is to wheel the big guns out in the opening auction, so it’s probably safe to assume that that this legendary rarity will not feature.

However, these two big ticket draws are unlikely to be missed in what can only be described as a sea of classic rarities. Here are my top 5 picks – just a fraction of the 150 or so items on offer.

  1. The Only Known 10c & 20c St Louis Twin Bears Cover

Everyone loves the St Louis Bears.

Bill Gross Louis

The St Louis Bears are the most charming US provisionals

This iconic stamp is easily the most charming of all the US provisionals issued in the run-up to the first official government postage stamps.

They’re named for the bears featured as part of the city’s coat of arms and they’re hugely rare.

This is the only known cover to feature a se-tenant (joined) 10c and a 20c specimen. It was created due to a quirk of the printing machine, which was modified at some point during the printing process.

It’s expected to sell for around $150,000-200,000.

  1. The Lord Crawford 5¢ 1847 First Issue Block

This block of 16 1847 5c Washington stamps is the sole surviving block of its size.

Lord Crawford stamps

This block is named for Lord Crawford, who acquired it around the 1900s

It’s not hard to see why. In 1851, the Post Office introduced a new run of stamps. It issued an amnesty, allowing the old ones to be traded in. Whoever owned this block either decided against it or simply forgot to exchange it. That’s especially remarkable when you consider 80c (the printed value of this block) was the equivalent of just over $20 today.

Today that printed value bears even less resemblance to the market value. The block is expected to reach $200,000-300,000.

  1. William H Russell’s signed Pony Express Cover

William H Russell co-founded the legendary Pony Express in 1860.

Bill Gross Pony

William Russell's franking gives this letter free passage

While it only existed for around 19 months, it made an outsized impact on the American psyche.

Russell sent this May 6, 1860 cover to the “Stagecoach King” Ben Holladay, another colourful figure in old west history who would buy Russell and co out in 1862. His attempt to make the business profitable would end in failure with the outbreak of the US civil war.

This cover is thus of major historical significance. It’s valued at $75,000-100,000.

  1. A Unique US and Canada First Issue Cover

This is really special.

A strip of five US 1847 5c stamps on a cover with a Canada 1847 “Beaver”. It’s one of a kind.

Bill Gross Canada

This combination of stamps is totally unique 

The letter was sent from New York to England. That meant it had to cross into Canada. At the time, both North American nations agreed to accept postage based at the rate paid on the other side of the border.

The sender appears not to have known this. Having access to some Canadian stamps, they attached one for good luck.

Who knew such a minute error could be so valuable in the future? Siegel values this piece at up to $800,000.

  1. The 10c 1847 ‘Bible’ Block

If you’re looking for my blockbuster lot, this is it.

Bill Gross Bible

It really doesn't get much better than this 

This is the largest known specimen of the 10c 1847 issue. It’s known to collectors as the Bible Block, as it was discovered in a holy book belonging to the Rives family of Virginia and Washington, DC.

Only coming to light in 1912, it’s been one of the most coveted pieces of early US postal history ever since.

Expect to see it hit $500,000-700,000 when it crosses the block this September.

Love stamps? I’ve recently updated my stock, so why not take a look?

Paul Fraser

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