Having passed my childhood in Kenmore, N.Y., and loving everything about mail and the post office, I was surprised when this postcard turned up, advertising the Kenmore Stamp Company in “the world’s most beautiful building devoted to Philately.” How did I miss that?
As it turns out, I have an excuse: The company’s founder, Ernest Greenway Jarvis, retired and sold the business three years before I was born. The stamps went to Arlington, Massachusetts, and the building, patterned after Shakespeare’s home in England, became a funeral home. (And remains so today, at 3070 Delaware Avenue.)
And that would be that, if not for the most valuable scrap of paper in the world. Much has been written about the 1856 one-cent British Guiana “Black on Magenta” stamp, of which there is only one. In 1891, The Philatelic Record noted, “This is without doubt, in our opinion, the rarest stamp in the world, in its solitary grandeur.”
The stamp’s history and provenance have been detailed elsewhere, but my interest begins with Arthur Hind, a Utica, N.Y., industrialist who bought the stamp at auction for more than $36,000 in 1922, outbidding three kings, including George V of England.
In 1928, at the age of 72, Arthur Hind married for the first time. His bride, Ann Leeta Hind, was from Constantia, N.Y., and was more than thirty years his junior. After the stock market crash of 1929, both Arthur’s health and Ann’s ardor began to wane.
Arthur died in Palm Beach, Florida, in March of 1933. In his will, he left little to his now-estranged wife: their house in Utica and its contents, “but not my stamp collection.” Ann, however, claimed one-third of the estate, as provided to widows by New York State law. And she specifically claimed the British Guiana stamp, saying it had been a gift from her husband.
Her case for ownership was bolstered by chance. Arthur had earlier moved his stamp collection to a bank vault, but the British Guiana stamp wasn’t there. Rather it turned up in the safe of his study, still inside the registered envelope in which it had been returned from its last exhibition. Hence it was in the couple’s “dwelling,” the contents of which had been left to Ann, who carried the day and the stamp. Not caught up in mourning, Ann soon wed Pascal Costa Scala, the 30-year-old monuments salesman who had sold her Arthur’s gravestone.
In 1935, Mrs. Scala placed the stamp with a London auction house, but the bidding did not meet her reserve price. She next reached out to Ernest Greenway Jarvis of the Kenmore Stamp Company, but he could find no takers at her asking price.
Ann, the stamp, and World’s Fair officials
To promote the stamp, she agreed to exhibit it in 1940 at the New York World’s Fair. In the city, a prospective buyer contacted the manager of the stamp department at Macy’s to see if the stamp could be purchased. Macy’s contacted Ann and the stamp sold for $45,000.
The stamp has had a number of owners since, some anonymous and some famous, and one measure of its fame was its appearance in a Donald Duck comic book, “The Gilded Man,” in 1952.
Most recently, in June of 2014, the stamp sold at Sotheby’s New York for $9.4 million. It’s kind of fun to think it spent a little of its time in the world’s most beautiful building devoted to philately, in Kenmore, N.Y.
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Read more about the stamp at Stampboards, Sotheby’s, the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum and Wikipedia.
Ernest Greenway Jarvis