Muhammad Ali famously once said, "It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am."
He also said, "I should be a postage stamp. That's the only way I'll ever get licked."
We know why Ali was the greatest. He moved and threw punches like butterflies and bees.
But what exactly does it mean to say a stamp collection is the greatest?
That's what I'm saying about the Gordon Eubanks collection of United States 1851 to 1856 Imperforate Issues.
Why? What makes his collection better than any other before it?
To avoid confusing matters, I am not referring to the collection in its exhibit form. In 2016 at World Stamp Show-NY, the exhibit captured the Grand Prix National, the top award. Not only was the material mind-blowing, but the presentation was seamlessly woven, the write-up was erudite, and the 128 pages displayed in the eight frames were dazzling.
I make this point about the exhibit vs. the collection, because sometimes Grand Prix exhibits win the contest, but viewed in the pantheon of past collections of the same subject, they do not make the final cut.
So, having made that distinction, I will repeat my laudatory claim. The Eubanks 1851-56 collection is the greatest collection of its kind ever assembled.
Now, back to the why part. Here are 3 reasons.
1. The Right Stuff: The Newbury 7R1E (Scott 5) and 99R2 (Scott 8) covers. The 1c 1851 "Big Flaw" block. The 10c 1855 "Colossus" block of 21. The Newbury block of Scott 16. The Neinken matching pair of 12c 1851 bisect covers to Canada. Even the nuanced rarities are there, such as the 5c 1856 cover to Hong Kong via Prussian Closed Mail, a route rarely used for mail from the U.S. to China.
2. The Perfect Balance: Without doubt, Louis Grunin's 1851-56 collection sold at Christie's in 1987-88 was fantastic, but his off-cover stamps from the same issue paled in comparison to the Eubanks off-cover material. The collection is a perfect mix of proofs, stamps, multiples and covers.
3. The Quality Factor: It's no secret that exhibitors sometimes "cheat" a bit by displaying less than perfect examples to fill a void or stretch a budget. If the story can be told with a stamp with a tear or a cover that's repaired, many exhibitors do not discriminate against faulty items. "It'll do" is the mantra. Not so for Gordon Eubanks. In almost every case, the quality of the stamp or cover in his collection will satisfy the most fastidious collector. His mantra has been, "Acquire the Best."
The sale of the Eubanks collection on October 12-13 does not include his celebrated "Dawson" 2c Missionary cover or the other Hawaiian postal history rarities, because he is continuing to build his Hawaii exhibit collection. The same is true for covers sent via Nicaragua and California Penny Post Company local covers. However, everything else is in the sale.
I personally handled the Grunin collection 34 years ago. Not since then have I ever felt a collection surpassed it
not until Gordon Eubanks came along and, with the dispersal of the Gross collection, added the last pieces to his collection, which had already won the Grand Prix.
The sale in October is destined to be one of those "I was there and wish I'd bought more" moments for many collectors. There's no better time to start a new collecting subject. Here are a few ideas for collectors and exhibitors:
Blocks, blocks, blocks. On or off cover. Multiples are impressive and rare, and there are many in the collection that will form the basis of a "Classic Multiples" collection.
Postal markings. Try putting together a survey collection of markings related to steamboat and railroad route agents, registered mail, territorial post offices, and carrier service.
Fancy cancels. The 1851-56 Issue period, in which relatively few fancy cancels were used, is a great lead-in to the more prolific 1861-69 period. The "J. Chiles" Shield of Eutaw, Alabama, would be a wonderful start to a fancy cancel collection.
Icons. If you have the means and inclination, start with the iconic pieces, and if you're starting with icons, the Newbury 7R1E cover should be at the top of the list. It has everything: Rarity, Beauty, Provenance. If I could only buy one lot in the sale, that would be it.
21c American Packet Rate. Now this is an obscure recommendation but stay with me. The transatlantic rate to various countries for mail carried by U.S. steamships via England was 21c. Obviously, there was no single 21c denomination available to pay the rate, so various combinations of 1c, 3c, 5c, 10c, and 12c stamps had to be used on covers to prepay the single or multiple 21c American Packet rate. It's a perfect common thread for a one-frame exhibit.
Choose a Stamp. The 1c is perfect for collectors who love the challenge of plating and the beauty of deep blue stamps. The 3c is the workhorse of the issue and is perfectly suited for specialization. The 5c and 10c are also fascinating single-issue subjects, and there is an abundance of material available. And the distinguished 12c Black is a beautiful stamp on and off cover.
Bisects. The last collector I knew who specialized in bisected stamps was Michael Bakwin, and his estate collection has been dispersed, leaving the field wide open to anyone who likes a challenge. The Eubanks collection contains spectacular examples of the 3c and 12c bisected and used on cover.
Illustrated Covers. With the 1851 Issue came the expanded use of envelopes, and envelopes made it easy to apply return addresses, commercial ads, illustrations for political or propaganda purposes, and even hand-illustrated designs. The illustrated covers in the Eubanks collection are diverse and beautiful. They form a collection you could show to capture the interest of non-collector friends.
I could go on and on, but I've already gone way beyond the boundaries of the average attention span for emails.
Enjoy the Eubanks catalogue and participate in the sale. If you need advice or assistance, the Siegel team is here.