Classic American rarity, the 90c Carmine & Black six-block, could bring $300,000

Siegel Auctions have a treat in store for fans of stamp errors and rarities from the 19th century US issues as they limber up to offer the Gordon Eubanks collection of the 1869 Pictorial Issue.

Comprising just 187 lots, this counts as a small auction by Siegel's standards, but there are some genuine world-class rarities on offer which would make great investments. For now, we'll focus on just one lot:

Lot 182 is a famous vertical block of six of the 90c Carmine & Black issue which boasts original gum, clearly-defined grills, rich colours and detailed impressions with long and full perforations all around.

It is in extremely fine condition; this is by far the finer of the two recorded original-gum blocks of six of the 90-cent 1869 pictorial issue, which is the largest recorded intact multiple. Indeed this block is the only one with full original gum.

Undoubtedly this was the overall highlight of the Caspary and Eubanks 1869 pictorial issue collections and one of the most important classic United States blocks extant. This makes it a strong investment.

A bit of history: the contract for the 1869 Pictorial Issue was awarded to National Bank Note Co. in February 1869 by the outgoing Johnson administration (Grant was inaugurated March 4, 1869). Three of the ten stamps had traditional portraits: the 1c Franklin, 6c Washington and 90c Lincoln.

The other values represented a radical departure from the portraiture of all previous issues, depicting scenes of fast communication and historical events.

Contemporary critical review was unexpectedly negative. While preceding issues had been current for 7 to 10 years and the 1870 Bank Note issue lasted 18 years, not even a year was given to the 1869 Pictorial Issue.

For the 90c, the portrait of Lincoln was admired, but the "prison bars" behind his head were criticised.

The 90c stamps were intended to be used on heavy domestic packages or on multiple rate mail to foreign destinations. Given the high cost of the stamp (equivalent to $14.33 in today's money), the 90c 1869's were not bought in any quantity to be stored and used later, as was the case with lower-denomination stamps.

90c block 1869 stamps
90c block of the 1869 stamp issue

With the reduction in many foreign treaty rates, the 90c could only be used on multiple-rate letters. The short lifespan of the 1869 Pictorial Issue closed the window of opportunity for the public to buy the 90c Lincoln stamps at the post office

Only one 90c on cover is recorded: the famous "Ice House" cover, sold by the Siegel firm for $375,000 (hammer price only).

There are two recorded unused blocks of six, the largest recorded unused multiples: the block offered here, from the Caspary, Kapiloff and Joseph collections; and another which just has traces of original gum, slightly dry print at the right, right centre stamp, a small thin spot and perforations strengthened and rejoined, from the Arthur Hind, Bechtel, Zoellner and Ainsworth collections (now in the Gross collection).

There is also a reconstructed unused block of eight (at one point owned by Lafayette).

An extraordinary lot with exceptional provenance, this block of six is expected to bring $200,000-300,000 in Siegel's auction which takes place on March 1 in New York.


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