Bill Gross seeks to set record by selling stamp collection for up to $20mn

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Investor Bill Gross, once known as the ‘bond king”, is looking to set a different investment record next week when the highlights of his rare stamp collection go under the hammer in New York.

Gross, who built the most complete collection of US stamps in history, is putting it for sale piece by piece on Friday and Saturday at the Robert A Siegel auction house. Presale estimates suggest the sale could bring $15mn to $20mn and set a record for a US stamp collection.

The most valuable piece, a 1868 one cent Z Grill, would shatter the record for a single US stamp if it goes for its presale estimate of $4mn to $5mn. The only other copy is owned by the New York Public Library. The current record was set last year when a single inverted Jenny stamp, named for the mistaken print of an upside-down aeroplane, sold for $2mn.

A founder of bond house Pimco, Gross has been penning monthly investor notes for 40 years that offer his view on a variety of markets. His interest in stamps comes from his mother, who bought stamps in the 1930s and 1940s hoping they would eventually pay for his college education.

But when Gross tried to sell them, he was offered a small fraction of what she had paid. That got him interested in identifying and buying stamps that would be a better investment.

“My mom had a good idea, but she didn’t buy the right stamps,” he said.

So Gross set out to prove that stamps, like fine wine and art, could be an investment as well as a hobby. He hired a philatelic adviser, Charles Shreve, and would scan auction catalogues while watching American football games. He liked the ritual of pasting his purchases into books late at night.

“Collecting by my definition is to create order out of disorder. It appealed to my personality,” Gross said.

In recent years, Gross has sold more than $50mn worth of stamps, including a record-breaking collection of rare UK printings. The Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington named a gallery after him in recognition of his $10mn gift.

Now he is getting out of the sector because he believes the stamp market is due for a correction. The stamp market “used to have a fundamental base of kids. That doesn’t exist any more,” he said.

Shreve, who also works as a consultant to the auction house selling the stamps, said he too was “concerned about the lack of the feeder system” because many of today’s wealthy collectors started as young people.

“What’s helped offset that is that stamps are collected internationally in countries where wealth is growing,” he said, noting that eBay and other auction sites continue to do a thriving business in stamps and have replaced retail stamp and coin shops.

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