The Bill Gross Stamp Collection

The greatest stamp collection ever assembled bridges the two great hobbies of stamps and coins.

by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries Inc. | Published on July 9, 2024

Years ago, a wealthy stamp collector told me in simple terms what he enjoyed about collecting. He said that in his profession—Wall Street arbitrage—he spent his days making money or (rarely) losing money, but he never built anything. The process of acquiring stamps allowed him to complete a set, to fill a page, and eventually to complete the whole album. Those milestones brought him tremendous satisfaction. In the end, he assembled a complete collection of United States stamps.

Bill Gross, who built his fortune trading in the bond market, set out to do the same thing, and his album had a few more spaces to fill by the time he reached his goal. When he was done, he not only completed a U.S. stamp collection, he amassed a trove of important philatelic items, including five blocks of the 24¢ Inverted Jenny.

While selling all of his specialized collections, Bill Gross held on to his album of “singles,” the term for the single stamps that fill the spaces of the Scott album. He has enjoyed his U.S. album collection most of all, not just for the beauty and rarity of the stamps in it, but for what it represents: an objective completed.

Earlier this year, Bill Gross decided it was time to sell the stamps in his album. He contacted Charles Shreve, his trusted agent for more than 30 years, and handed over the album to have it sold in an auction held by Shreve and Siegel Auction Galleries on June 14–15 in New York City.

There have been four previous “Big Catalog” auctions of the Gross U.S. collection. They are called the “Big Catalogs” because the hardbound books with dustjackets are larger than the usual stamp auction catalog size. They make a beautiful set for a library. They even qualify as coffee table books. There have been sales of U.S. Stamp “Treasures”, “Multiples”, “Postal History” and the “1847 First Issue.” The “U.S. Stamps Complete” catalog completes the set of five.

As for the offerings in June, this was every stamp collector’s dream. The auction contained an array of major rarities unlike anything ever seen before in philately. For the purpose of keeping the bidders fully engaged, the lots were divided into two sessions. The first session was billed as “The Top 100.” As you might guess, these were 100 lots of the rarest and most valuable stamps in the collection. They were offered consecutively during the evening auction on Friday, June 14, at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel. The remaining 217 lots were offered on Saturday afternoon at The Collectors Club of New York’s new facility.

The star of the auction is unquestionably the One-Cent “Z” Grill. It is the philatelic equivalent of the Weitzman Specimen of the 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle. Although two are known, only one is available to collectors. The other is in the Benjamin K. Miller collection owned by The New York Public Library. Both stamps were issued in 1868 and discovered around the same time in 1915-16.

The One-Cent “Z” Grill was once owned by the late Dr. Jerry Buss of Los Angeles Lakers fame, whose collection of coins included the “Big Three”: 1804 Silver Dollar, 1913 Liberty Nickel and 1894-S Dime. In the 1986 Superior Stamp & Coin sale of the Buss stamp collection, the One-Cent “Z” Grill shattered the auction record for a U.S. stamp when it sold for $418,000 to Robert Zoellner, the arbitrageur mentioned at the beginning of this article.

In 1986, Bill Gross had not started collecting stamps yet, but when the Zoellner collection was sold by the Siegel firm in 1998, he had been in the market for about six years and was determined to acquire this key to a complete collection. Alas, it was not to be.

An 11-year old Zachary Sundman, the son of Don Sundman (owner of Mystic Stamp Company), held paddle 108 when the One-Cent “Z” Grill was knocked down at his winning bid of $850,000. Charles Shreve, who executed a maximum bid for Bill Gross, bought other important stamps in the Zoellner sale, but left without the One-Cent “Z” Grill.

Over the next seven years, the One-Cent “Z” Grill was displayed by Mystic Stamp Company at major stamp events. Even Heidi Klum, the supermodel and television star, was introduced to the stamp at a show in Atlantic City in 2002.

Then, the “Greatest Stamp Swap in History” took place in November 2005. Don Sundman and Charles Shreve met in front of news cameras and reporters to exchange the One-Cent “Z” Grill for the unique plate block of the 24¢ Inverted Jenny, which Bill Gross had bought at a Siegel auction weeks earlier for $2.97 million. Mystic made a cool $2 million profit, and Bill Gross got the stamp he needed to fill the last space in his album.

With an opening bid of $3,000,000 at the June 14 auction, three unique bidders spurred the hammer price of the One-Cent “Z” Grill to an extraordinary $3,700,000. With the standard 18% buyer’s premium Siegel adds to the hammer price of all lots, this brings the total sale price to $4,366,000. This more than doubles the record for the most valuable United States postage stamp that was set by Siegel Auctions last year with the finest example of the Inverted Jenny that sold for $2,006,000.

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Source: Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries Inc.

Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries Inc. image

Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries was founded in 1930 in Kansas City, Missouri and moved to New York City in 1934. Over the firm’s 93 years of business, Siegel has distinguished itself as the leading philatelic auction house in the United States. Siegel has broken multiple auction records with sales including the Inverted Jenny plate block at $2.97 million, the Hawaiian 2c Missionary cover at $2.090 million, and the Inverted Jenny single at $2.006 million. Siegel Auction Galleries is committed to ensuring the future of stamp collecting by providing free educational resources, developing innovative technology, and sharing the stories of collections with the public.

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