Charles Shreve

Who Knew????? Stamps can Be Worth Millions of Dollars!
By Charles Shreve

When I first started my career in the rare stamp auction business at the age of 13 working for an auctioneer in Detroit (he couldn't afford to hire a “normal” adult human being!) - I never dreamed that later in life I would be selling some of the world's rarest stamps – stamps that cost millions of dollars. When I tell my non-stamp collecting friends that rare postage stamps be worth sometimes millions of dollars they think I am pulling their leg or had one too many cocktails.

In 2005, I brokered the sale of the rarest United States stamp – the 1867 One Cent “Z”Grill – one of only two known, with one of them never to be sold as it is in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum' collection. The other, the only one in private hands, last traded at auction in 1998 for $935,000. Bill Gross, one of the most famous American financial minds known as the “Bond King”, needed this stamp to be the only person to have a complete a 19th century United States stamp collection. Mr. Gross' entire stamp collection is worth tens of millions of dollars and is quite legendary. The problem being was the stamp was owned by a stamp dealer who loved promoting that he bought it and he wasn't interested in selling it. Except, when I proposed that we trade the unique plate number block of four of the iconic 24c Inverted Jenny stamp of the United States, which we had just acquired for Mr. Gross at auction for nearly $3,000,000, his interest was piqued. After considerable negotiations we concluded the most expensive stamp trade in the history of the hobby – and acquired the One Cent “Z” Grill.

The British Guiana One Cent Magenta sold at auction in 1970 for $280,000 and then again in 1980 for $935,000 – the last time it has appeared on the marketplace. It was acquired in 1980 by John du Pont (an heir to the famous du Pont fortune) and it has remained in his hands since that time. Adding to the lore of this stamp is that Mr. du Pont was convicted of murdering a U.S. wrestling team member at his Pennsylvania training compound in 1996 and was sentenced to prison, where he died in 2010. The stamp was being sold for the benefit of his heirs.

So, on June 17th in New York City this iconic stamp was up for grabs at an auction conducted by the world famous art auctioneers – Sotheby's. And this time it was expected to realize a record shattering number unheard of in philately (stamp collecting). The stamp is the most famous stamp in the world – the 1856 British Guiana One Cent Magenta – the only one in existence and the sole stamp that every collector dreams of owning. The auction house placed a pre-sale estimate of $10 to $20 million on it – placing in the same league of famous paintings by Monet and other impressionists. Some thought the auction house placed too aggressive of an estimate on it and it may not attract bidding at that level. But in today's world of incredibly rich Russian oligarchs and Chinese business moguls, who knew who will be attracted to the stamp? Charles Shreve was in attendance. It sold for $9,480,000. It certainly was the most dramatic moment in stamps in many years.