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Curator's Corner — William H. Gross Gallery dedication PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, September 21, 2013 12:41 AM

Sunday will be a very important day in the history of stamp collecting. It is the day the US Postal Service and the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum will dedicate the William H. Gross Gallery.

Mr. Gross, known to many investors as Mr. Bonds, donated the seed money ($12 million) to renovate and build the world’s largest stamp gallery. Over 20,000 items will be on display to showcase items never before seen by the public.

You may recall one of my articles from a few years ago, that I had the opportunity to see hundreds of items that were stored in the underground vault at USPS Headquarters in Washington, D.C. I spent an entire day looking at uncut stamp sheets. Some were signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and also PMG James A. Farley. Franklin had a rule that the first run of stamps was to become part of his collection. The memory of that day still gives me chills.

Meg Ausman, the postal historian at headquarters and 30 year postal veteran, told me just how privileged I was when she admitted that she had never been allowed access.

During that same visit, I observed archivists preparing the Postmaster General’s (PMG) collection to be turned over to the Smithsonian. So what is the PMG’s collection? It has two very distinct parts. First are the stamps, metal dies, uncut sheets, postal stationery and printing drums of all the stamps that were commissioned since the 1860’s. Many of these items were produced and utilized at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), which at one time was the primary source for the production of both stamps and US currency.

The second part is the artwork that was produced that became the “die cast”, if you will, for the stamps to come. In 2010 the task of cataloging and packaging this massive collection began and it took several months to complete that task.

Shortly after we opened our museum in 1995, I had the privilege to go behind the scenes of the process of producing stamps. I was escorted under and between the printing drums of hand cut dies as millions of stamps rolled by. Each printing drum applied one color at a time onto this seemingly endless roll of stamp paper. I am sure you have seen movie footage or you may have toured the Eagle Print facility right here in Delphos where web presses utilize this same process to print newspapers.

At BEP, just to the side of this massive operation, were large receptacles filled with printing mistakes that would be destroyed. Needless to say, I was searched thoroughly on my way in and on my way out. Those “mistakes” were more valuable than any stamp would become.

Keep in mind that the cornerstone of Mr. Gross’s collection and the spark plug for the galleries is a plate block of the most famous stamp error in history – the inverted Jenny. How valuable did this one sheet of stamp mistakes become? In 2005, a block of four stamps sold for $2.7 million and in 2007, a single stamp sold for $977,000. Not bad for an initial investment of 24 cents.

Sorry, you won’t find any of these in our collection at the museum but you will find thousands upon thousands of stamps on display.

In my next article I will tell you more about the inverted Jenny and the grand opening ceremonies that will be taking place including the Medal of Honor presentation and the first day issue of the new $2 inverted Jenny stamp.

Just a quick note: You can go online at USPS.com to reserve one of the 5,000 souvenir stamp mint sets of the new stamp. They will only be sold until Oct. 15. That’s just three weeks and can you imagine only 5,000 will be produced. The set includes:

— One mint sheet and one cancelled sheet of the 2013 Stamp Collecting: Inverted Jenny stamps;

— Proofs that show each intaglio color in isolation an authentic section of the die wipe used during the 2013 press run

— Sleeves for preserving the proofs and stamps; and

— A 48-page book that tells the story of the 1918 misprint and the incredible printing and design challenges involved in recreating the stamp in 2013.

In line with the concept that stamps are miniature art pieces, the Museum of Postal History will be holding an art auction at 3 p.m. Nov. 3 in the upstairs gallery. Your $10 donation goes toward the free wine and hors d’oeuvres and the opportunity to add some fine art and sports memorabilia to your home or office. Save the date and you can purchase your ticket at the Museum this weekend during Canal Days. Be sure to stop in. We will be open from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 3-6 p.m. on Sunday following the parade.

Our normal hours of 1-3 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday will resume next week.

 

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