What do John Lennon, author Ayn Rand and Bill Gross have in common? They’re all famous philatelists, meaning they collect and study stamps. And if you think it’s just a hobby, think again. It often involves big business and bigger dollars.
As AdvisorOne contributor Ed McCarthy noted in January, The American Philatelic Society (APS) in Bellefonte, Pa., has over 33,000 members. Stamps trade actively, as well. Scott Trepel, president of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York, reports that since 1930 his firm has run 1,037 auctions of stamps and covers; the auctions’ dollar volume reached $35 million in 2012. (Covers are postage stamps on a cover, postal card or stamped envelope.)
Now comes word that Gross (left) and his wife, Sue, will auction pieces of their collection in April with the proceeds going to charity. The sale is expected to generate $1.5 to $2 million for nonprofit organizations Doctors Without Borders and the Millennium Villages Project at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The auction will be conducted by Gross' “philatelic advisors,” Charles and Tracy Shreve.
The bond king’s philatelic ties run deep. Gross recently purchased a plate block of the famous Inverted Jenny stamp for about $3 million. The Inverted Jenny features an upside down airplane and is a famous stamp-misprint. He then traded the Jennys for a single stamp needed to complete his collection, according to McCarthy.
The Wall Street Journal’s Total Return blog reports that Gross became interested in stamp collecting through his mother, who had saved sheets of stamps from the 1950s and 1960s and hoped to sell them later at a profit. While his mother’s stamps ultimately weren’t worth much, it notes, “Gross set about to prove that stamp collecting could be fun, but also a good investment.”
Some of the items in the upcoming fundraising auction date back to 1847, the first year the United States issued postage stamps. One of the postal history highlights is a letter mailed in 1851 with an 1847 $0.10 stamp neatly cut in half and used in place of a five-cent stamp. It has an estimated value of $15,000 to $20,000.
Another highlight is a four-page letter with early Hawaiian and U.S. postage stamps that was written and mailed from Honolulu in 1854 by Maria Whitney Pogue, the first missionary child born in Hawaii. It is estimated at $50,000 to $70,000.
A letter written in 1851 and sent to New York from Canada using an 1847 U.S. postage stamp is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. The letter is addressed to Edwin D. Morgan, who would be elected New York Governor in 1859 and elected to the U.S. Senate in 1863. Edwin also served as the first chairman of the Republican National Committee.
"I enjoy collecting, studying, admiring and displaying historic stamps and postal history, and have always been fascinated by the provenance of items and how important items move from one outstanding collection to another over the years,” Gross said in a statement. “This gives each new collector an opportunity to acquire and learn. It's my hope that a new generation of collectors will carry on, deriving the same great pleasure from these items that I enjoy."
Read PIMCO’s Bill Gross: ‘If the Fed’s So Smart, Why Are Some of Us Still Poor?’ on AdvisorOne.