Treasure Trove - Part 1

The classic stories of the fabulous stamps of philately have been told so many times that to recount them here would be repetitious and boring. The Post Office "Mauritius," the Hawaiian "Missionaries," the "24-cent inverted airmail," the "Hawker," the "Pinedo" and all of the others have become legendary and are as much a part of stamp collecting as are stamps themselves. The stories of the creation or discovery of these great rarities are fascinating but to our present generation they are rather "corny." All of them occurred many years ago and, while it is true that they could happen again, such a possibility is rather farfetched. Surely every stamp collector should know about such stamps; in fact he will have difficulty in not hearing these classics extolled. But if we pin our hopes on finding the greatest treasures only, we will almost certainly be courting disappointment. At the turn of the century thousands of collectors were scurrying through old attics and other likely places in search of lost stamp treasures. Determined to uncover some such great treasure, an enterprising professional, not long ago, contrived a story of philatelic treasure that was published in one of the larger magazines with national circulation.

It was announced that this man would gladly examine any stamps anyone might wish to send him and that he would inform them of the value of such stamps. As might be expected, this fellow's office was literally swamped with letters and packages from all over the nation. Thousands upon thousands of persons wrote in and sent stamps hopeful that theirs would "hit the jackpot." So many packages were received that help was required to open and examine them all and for months collectors and professionals dropped in to help in the search for the "great find." Surely among this great mass of letters and old documents there must be something of great value. Yet when the job was finally completed, the last letter opened and the writer advised, this man's great treasure hunt had turned up exactly nothing! Dame Fortune was not to be forced to reveal her treasures! How then is one to find anything "good"? Where must one look? First, of course, one must know gold when he sees it. Next, the most likely place to make a "strike" is where there is a "showing." Any prospector or wildcatter will tell you that. In stamps the most obvious "showing" is wherever stamps are concentrated. At stamp exhibitions, club meetings, or, best of all, where stamps are sold! Yes, the stamp dealer's shop is the place to "prospect" if you are in search of treasure. Every important stamp has entered philately by way of a stamp dealer and the initial sales price has usually been but a small fraction of what the stamp was later to realize. An example of this process, one well known and not too ancient to prove our point, is the case of the 24-cent inverted airmail stamp issued by the United States in 1918.

Twenty-four-cent inverted air-mail
Twenty-four-cent inverted air-mail.

The sheet of one hundred with inverted centers was purchased at face value at the Post Office by W. T. Robey. They cost him exactly twenty-four dollars. Within a few weeks he sold this sheet of stamps to the late Eugene Klein, a dealer in Philadelphia. Mr. Klein is reported to have paid $15,000, or at the rate of $150 per stamp. Mr. Klein sold the sheet of stamps to the late Colonel E. H. R. Green reportedly for the huge sum of $20,000, which is $200 per stamp. Colonel Green broke up the sheet, retained the blocks he wished and made the others available at $250 per stamp. Thus these stamps were now "in the market"; they were available to collectors. The price of a single stamp from this sheet rapidly advanced as they changed hands. In recent years a single copy has been offered for $7000. The $200 per stamp which had been changed on the initial sale from dealer to collector had increased twenty times. The original sheet of one hundred stamps now has a potential value of over $400,000.