While visiting Daniel, an old friend and Milton Academy high school classmate in Brookline, Mass., June 17-18, 2016, the subject of stamps came up. Daniel went to a coat closet and returned with an old copy book, which he explained was his great-great-grandfather’s journal. He opened the front cover and drew out a glassine envelope containing three early American stamps — a rare multiple of three of the first three-cent issue (circa 1852), featuring a side profile bust of George Washington. I examined them closely, thrilled to realize they had been sitting in that book for more than 150 years. They were still in pristine condition, as fresh as the day Daniel’s ancestor bought them at a post office for nine cents. Well, he probably bought at least four of them (for 12 cents), cut out one of them, licked the gum on the back and pasted the stamp to a letter, then stored the others for a future use that never arrived..
Daniel told me one of his sources had suggested the stamps might be worth as much at $50,000. I was impressed, though a bit skeptical, and promised to look into the matter. The following is from our subsequent correspondence, which delves into one of the thornier issues in U.S. philatelic lore.
June 21, 2016
Daniel, … I have been searching for more background on your precious stamps, which happily you showed me just before we left on Sunday. Wow! They are beauties. My catalog has them listed as No. 10, with all sorts of prices (some in the thousands), depending on varieties. The value increases with the condition. You have one “gem” (four margins, never-hinged original gum, good centering and color), and two very-fine specimens, also never-hinged. As a multiple of three, the stamps only increase in value. … I shall keep looking for more info, but if you are really curious, have them professionally appraised by a reputable Boston firm. No need to unload them in a hurry, though — stamps like these seem to be holding their value and are a decent investment — particularly considering the original purchase price of nine cents. Meanwhile, I plan to send you shortly some philatelic materials you might use to protect your stamps properly (don’t be nervous — they seem just fine as they are, though to me it seems shockingly informal and casual …) …
Here’s an idea — would you or Maria take a picture of the stamps (through the envelope would be fine)? Then email the image to me. I plan to go to the Syracuse Stamp Club meeting Friday night (a bigger collection of originals you could never hope to see), and I expect I would get some interesting responses in showing around the photo. And I would report back to you …
June 23, 2016 (forwarded correspondence from Daniel)
Ben, I showed Fred Fiske one of my Milton classmates the three cent stamps circa 1852 discovered in my great, great grandfather’s journal (btw also George Buffington’s** step great great grandfather.) Fred is intrigued as were you and as you can see from the email below (ed: i.e., a copy of my note, above), Fred is a member of a secret philatelist society in Syracuse NY. Not to get off track but grandpa reports in his journal he met the Emperor of the Austrian Hungary Empire in Vienna and declares the Hapsburgs the ugliest family he has ever seen, looking like monkeys in fine clothes. … Daniel ** (Ed: George Buffington is also a friend and Milton classmate.)
June 24, 2016
Hi Daniel — Here is the image of a stamp from my collection featuring the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Franz Joseph, in 1914, at the outset of World War I. I loved your report from your great-great-grandfather’s visit to the emperor, I guess in the mid-1800s. What were your ancestors up to in those days? Does this next-generation guy still look like a monkey? Sort of, I guess …
By the way, I am embarrassed to say I had the date of the stamp club meeting wrong. The third Friday of the month is not today, but last week! So I will have to wait until the first Friday of next month, July 1, to attend the next stamp club meeting. Meanwhile, however, I have found that a catalogue from 2006 lists your stamp. Scott No. 10, mint, at $2,500. More to come … Best, FMF
p.s. Since we have some time, I would suggest you make another try to photograph your valuable stamps. The shot you sent me was good — clear and sharp — but it cut off the crucial left side of the multiple, which shows that the top left stamp is a gem — four margins, etc. If I had that to show around next Friday, I would be like the bee’s knees …
June 26, 2016
Fred, Another shot trying to feature stamp on left. … My great great grandfather who wrote the journal where I found the stamps was Thomas Van Buren. He spent three months traveling through Italy and Austria in 1853, part of the time with his uncle, President Martin Van Buren, and his cousin Martin Jr. They visited the Pope, the Hapsburg emperor and others. I read elsewhere that Martin used to laugh the Europeans assumed he was of noble birth, whereas the family was just poor farmers. Anyway, Grandpa went on to be a California state senator, a NYS assemblyman, a Civil War General and the consul general to Japan from 1872 to 1884. Your old friend Daniel
July 15, 2016
Daniel, … My apologies for not getting back to you about the stamps. Amid the house-moving and the upset rumpus, I have missed a couple of stamp club meetings. I am determined to go on Saturday to the annual Stamp Club Picnic at a member’s house on Cross Lake, which is in Jordan, a small community northwest of Syracuse. The prospect of Stamp Club members cavorting in bathing suits (including me) is a daunting one, likely to frighten children and small animals. Yet I intend to persist, in order to quiz some of the more knowledgeable members about your fine multiple of U.S. No. 10. Best, FMF
July 18, 2016
Hi Daniel — Saturday was beautiful, and so was the year-round vacation home of our host, Dick Nuhn of the Syracuse Stamp Club, on the shore of Cross Lake in northwestern Onondaga County (about 20 miles from here). There was a good turnout of stamp club members for the annual outing, with hamburgers, brats and spiedies, and a table of salads, as well as desserts. Bravo! The lake was charming — a smaller version of Lake George, of Champlain, or something. The Seneca River flows through it, so it’s part of the Erie Canal system, capable of transporting barges and other shipping and pleasure vessels from the Hudson clear to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Canadian Maritimes …
One of my main purposes — in addition to eating, schmoozing and taking a dip in the refreshing lake waters — was to show around my photos of your three-cent of 1853 multiple on my Macbook. I displayed the stamps before Dick, our host, as well as Mike and Ralph, two early U.S. stamp experts; also Al Swift, who knows a thing or two on the subject, and several others. At one point, Dick took Mike and me into his log house, up a spiral staircase and across a catwalk to a balcony nook with a sweeping view of the lake. This is where he has his stamp collection, which sprawls from one side of the house to the other in vast profusion. Here is some of what they said:
First, Dick looked up Nos. 10 and 11 in a recent Scott catalogue (2006, and prices may have gone up in the last decade). No. 10, described as “orange brown,” catalogued at about $3,200 — this, for a mint (unused) copy which, like the upper left one of your three examples, displays a clear border on all four sides (your other two are cut off just inside one border). Yours, of course, are “never hinged,” which makes them considerably more valuable. Having three together also is worth a premium — a pity you didn’t have the fourth one to make a square block, one of the observers said, which of course would have added even more value.
Now to No. 11, which is identical in every way to No. 10, except for the ink — and the value. No. 11’s color is described as “dull red,” and the catalog value for a good mint copy is about $300 — one-10th the value of No. 10. As an observer noted, there are many shades of each variety, so it can be devilishly hard to discern clear differences between “orange brown” and “dull red.” When stamps are cancelled with a clear date, it’s sometimes easier to distinguish varieties, since an earlier cancellation would rule out the later variety. But in the case of mint stamps, that’s obviously no help. I read elsewhere that the impression on No. 10 may be sharper than No. 11. The impression on your stamps, Daniel, is very crisp, and I still lean toward them being No. 10, the more valuable variety. But I could not get any of my consultants to make a definitive identification.
I think we have stumbled on one of the more enduring challenges in U.S. philately: No. 10 or No. 11? An expertising article I consulted online (“Identifying Scott No. 10 and No. 10A,” at http://www.uspcs.org) notes “(it) probably is the most frequently misidentified 19th century U.S. stamp. The problem of No. 11 and 11a … being advertised as No. 10 or 10a … seems to be chronic … .”
Trying to get to the bottom line with my stamp club buddies was tougher than pulling perforations. First I had to get them to accept, if only in theory, that this was No. 10 (gold) rather than No. 11 (dross). Then there was the matter of three-stamps-not-a-block but still-a-rare-multiple, not to mention mint-never-hinged. Multiply $3,200 by three and you already are up to $9,600 — not bad for a nine-cent investment by your ancestor, Daniel. Add the multiple and never-hinged factors and you get well beyond $10k, toward $20k. “But my friend was advised it might be worth $50k,” I announced. “What do you think?” Mike took another look and allowed, “Maybe.” At least he didn’t rule it out. He also didn’t make an offer. Dick said he once was presented with what the seller said was a cancelled No. 10. “I paid 35 bucks for it, but I’m still not sure if it’s really No. 10.” He showed me his copy, and I displayed for comparison purposes a photo from my father’s collection of what he claimed were No. 10 and No. 11. (By the way, these are all cancelled copies, which are much less valuablle than yours, Daniel.)
So there you have it. They wouldn’t say yes, they wouldn’t say no, just a definite maybe. Mike advised getting the darn thing appraised by an expert, like Mr. Sigismundo (sp?), a stamp expertiser from Central New York. I’ll bet there are several in the Boston area you could locate through the U.S. Philatelic Classics Society … In philatelic solidarity, I remain, FMF
July 19, 2016 (From Dan to Fred) Thanks for learned thoughtful piece. An endless search. More later
http://www.theswedishtiger.com/10-scotts.html (ED: This link is to a site passed along gets so far into the weeds over Nos. 10 and 11 as to drive ardent philatelists to drink, to distraction, discouragement or disconsolation. Is there any end to the depths of this hobby?
Sept. 3, 2016
email from FMF to D. Gerrity (copy to G. Buffington). Subject: two more observations on Nos. 10,11. Forgive the return to a subject that it seemed we might have exhausted some time ago, but here goes:
1) One reason why a multiple of these early U.S. stamps may be more valuable than not, I recently learned, is that in those days, folks mainly took their mail to the post office, unstamped. They bought only the stamps they needed, stuck them to the envelopes and mailed them. That is, they didn’t keep a supply at home. Why bother?
2) It seems the valuable No. 10 stamp went on sale in July, 1851. After May of 1852, nearly all the 3-cent stamps used were the less-valuable No. 11. What just struck me is the following: As I recall, you removed the envelope containing these stamps from a journal you said belonged to your great-etc. grandfather. So might there be a clue in the journal as to when he bought the stamps? If it was before May of 1852, there is a better-than-ever chance it was the valuable No. 10. Are there lots of journal entries? When exactly did he go abroad? (i.e., he couldn’t have bought U.S. stamps while he was traveling!) Does he mention sending a letter to someone? Or buying the stamps? (perhaps that is not the sort of thing one would note in one’s journal, but still …)
Now to let you get on to more pressing matters …
Philatelically yours, FMF
p.s. I hope you and yours are well.
Sept. 3 also, from George Buffington — Dear Fred and Dan:
This sounds like a lot of effort. Can’t you just look at them and tell the difference? Well, I looked on the web and found the helpful thoughts below. Love George (ed: TEXT FOLLOWS)
Don’t look for design differences in the stamp. There aren’t any. The key is the ink color.
Scott #10 is described as orange-brown and Scott #11 is described as dull red. If you haven’t seen these stamps before, they are not too difficult to distinguish.
Scott #10 is very orange appearance in color. Copies of Scott #10 tend to be very bright too. Scott #11 is more red in appearance. If you have copy of Scott #224, then Scott #11 is more like the color of ink used for Scott #224. It’s not a perfect match, but #11 is darker in appearance.
Also, the impressions of Scott #10 are sharper in detail. Scott #10 came from earlier versions of the printing plates before there was much plate wear. Scott #11 came from later printings and the printing plates show some wear. Scott #11 isn’t as crisp appearing.
Using a magnifier, watch for recutting too. Scott #10A and #11A have the inner frame lines recut. Scott #10 and #11 are not recut.
About 5% of the stamp population is Scott #10 or #10A and 95% is Scott #11 or #11A. Watch your copies of Scott #11. You may just run into the more valuable Scott #10.
Scott #10 and #11 have been extensively plated too. The bible is “The 3 cent Stamp of the United States 1851-1857 Issue” by Dr. Carroll Chase. Subsequent work has updated some of Dr. Chase’s information, but his book is still largely complete.
Margins on these stamps are very small. If you see a pair of these stamps, you’ll understand why. There was almost no space between the stamps. Cutting them apart with scissors was not exact. Wide margins on these issues are difficult to find.
email from FMF to George Buffington:
George, you are as usual an inspiration to me.
First, with your common-sensible response on the Nos. 10, 11 controversy: just look at them and tell the difference.
It reminds me of my old late Mother, as well as Pa, who were happily liberal on political matters, but kind of skeptical when it came to the esoterica of mental health therapy. “Why,” my mother would say, “if you don’t know who you are, get out your Social Security card, hold it up in front of your face and look in the mirror.”
Well, yes. The thing is, philately is different from psychotherapy, for starters. Here are several further considerations, based also on the helpful expertise you supplied in your attachment:
1) The color controversy has long since baffled me. There are so many hues between orange brown and dull red that I have retreated from that line of inquiry, for now at least …
2) I am equally befuddled by references to “plating” — as if the average collector could figure out which PLATE a particular stamp came from.
3) As for “recutting” — what the heck?
4) It turns out even expert stamp collectors are hard to pin down on this one. (I refer to my Bonus posting on Nos., 10 and 11, in which I was unable to get a single member of the Syracuse Stamp Club I interviewed to declare Daniel’s triple No. 10 or No. 11.)
5) The other thing is, it’s lots of fun to delve into all of this. Otherwise, how would I have known about Daniel’s fabled relative (and yours?) and his traveling/stamp-buying habits in the winter of 1852? With the evidence to date, I stick to my booster assessment that his is a rare multiple of No. 10, worth thousands!
follow-up email to George, copy to Daniel. By the way, I checked No. 224, which your attached expertise statement suggests as a useful color guide to distinguish No. 11 from No. 10. It so happens there is a copy in my Pa’s collection, which I am holding. Comparing colors strengthens my conviction that Daniel’s is No. 10. … Love, FMF