Auction Results

$4.4 million Z Grill sets US stamp record


1c Benjamin Franklin blue z grill

The $4.4 million paid on Friday by an unnamed bidder in New York makes the Z Grill – a 1 cent blue Benjamin Franklin stamp from 1868 – the most valuable US stamp in history.

The stamp was the highlight of the auction of the Bill Gross collection.

In total, the top 100 items in the Bond King’s US stamp collection, considered one of the most complete ever assembled, realised a record for a US collection of $18.1 million.

Grills were used for around 4 years by the US Post Office. A device impressed a design into a stamp in order to make it harder to remove the ink that cancelled a stamp once used.

When the postal authorities realised the expense of producing the grills exceeded the actual losses from stamp washing they retired the grills.

As a result almost all grill stamps are rare. The Z grill is the rarest of the rare. There are only two known surviving examples. One was sold on June 14. The other is in the New York Public Library.

Charles Shreve, director of the US Siegel Auction Galleries, said: “It’s the holy grail of collecting United States stamps.”

The William H Gross Stamp Gallery at the Smithsonian is evidence of Gross’s dedication to his hobby and to philanthropy.

Gross’s collecting fever is said to date back to his childhood. He made a huge fortune from his investment business and was able to attempt a complete collection of US stamps. Friends say his passion reflected his passion for order and the need for a break from the hurly burly of selling.

The stamp was sold in a custom Louis Vuitton trunk.

Gross swapped a block of Inverted Jennys for the Z Grill in 2005. That gave the stamp a value of somewhere around $3 million.

He can celebrate an increase in value of around 46%.

The $2 million sale of an Inverted Jenny last November shows the very top end of the US stamp market to be in rude health.

Rarities like these come to market rarely and dedicated collectors with deep pockets are willing to fight for them.

Having completed his collection Gross has sold considerable quantities of stamps in recent years as well as donating to national collections.

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