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1-Cent Z-Grill - The Holy Grail of Philately

September 01, 2018

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The Benjamin Franklin Z Grill. From William H. Gross (Bill Gross) collection.

At first glance, the stamp you can see above is a simple blue stamp with a portrait of one of the Founding Fathers and the first postmaster of the United States, Benjamin Franklin. In fact, this is the most valuable of all US post stamps, and it can become the highlight of the most prestigious philatelic auctions. The piece was produced in 1868 using a rare technology. In particular, grilling technology was used to modify its texture. American post service resorted to it so that citizens could no longer erase ink from cancelled stamps and then reuse them. The technology implied pressing a special grill to the paper to tear the fibers so that a rectangular grid with small indentations would appear on the backside. As a result, the paper would soak ink up easily making it impossible to wash it off. In general, 11 types of grill presses (each designated by a Latin letter) were introduced. Type Z grill (11 x 14 millimeters) was not widely used, because soon after its introduction, it was decided to stop using the technology.

From 1 Cent to Three Million Dollars

At present, there are two known copies of this stamp. One of these rare stamps is kept in a private collection and the other has been granted to an institution, which can be accessed by the general public. 

The New York Public Library is the lucky owner of the first stamp. In 1925, philatelist Benjamin Miller decided to pass the valuable piece to the institution. Curiously, he presented the item along with his full US stamps collection.

The second piece was found in 1957. At different times, its owners were private collectors Lester Brookman and Jerry Buss. In 1986, Robert Zoellner bought the item for $418,000. In the year 1998, Mystic Stamp Company bought it from him for an unknown amount (approx. from $850,000 to $935,000). Seven years later, Bill Gross offered a deal to the company president. As a result, the valuable piece was “exchanged” for 4 "Inverted Jenny" stamps. Experts estimated that the price for the Holy Grail of Philately had reached the $2,970,000 mark. Curiously, the current owner is now also the only collector who owns all the 19th century US stamps.