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Super Stamp Swap

Would you trade 97 cents for one cent? Nearly $3 million for nearly $1 million?

Two of the most visible U.S. stamp collectors did. Bill Gross, who bought the Inverted Jenny plate block at auction last month for a net price of $2.97 million, traded it to Don Sundman of Mystic Stamp Co. for the 1-cent Z Grill, which he had purchased in 1998 for $935,000, also at auction.

A press release claims it was an even trade.

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Gross said he needed the Z Grill to complete his U.S. collection. Sundman, meanwhile, had been getting his money's worth out of it, displaying it at major stamp shows and featuring it in his company's advertising. It's even depicted on the new credit cards from the American Philatelic Society, the nation's largest stamp collecting organization.

There are only two Z Grills known to exist, and the other copy is mired in the New York Public Library collection, which is no longer shown to the public. There is only one plate block from the Inverted Jenny sheet.

"Ordinarily, the plate numbers were trimmed off at the top on these first printing sheets, but in this case, because it was an invert, the plate number appeared at the bottom and was saved," Scott Trepel, whose Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries sold the plate block, told The Virtual Stamp Club.

"Now that Mystic owns the Jenny Invert Plate Block, we'll be exhibiting it at major stamp shows." Sundman says on Mystic's Web site.

Gross, a bond trader, now has a complete 19th Century U.S. collection. According to Charles Shreve, president of Shreves Philatelic Galleries, Gross will exhibit his newly-acquired Z Grill at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington next spring.

"This is an incredible, historic accomplishment. Not even the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington has one of everything," said Shreve, who represented Gross first in his purchase of the plate block and then in the trade with Sundman.

"This is the world's greatest trade," declared Sundman.

"The Z Grill is so-named for the embossed grill patterns in the paper used in certain early U.S. postage stamps," explained Sundman.

In 1918, collector William Robey purchased a sheet of 100 of the first airmail issue, a 24-cent stamp showing the Curtiss JN4-H biplane, at the main Washington, DC, post office for $24, and noticed that the airplane was upside down. The clerk said he hadn't noticed, because he didn't really know what an airplane looked like, but he'd taken them back and give Robey another sheet if he wanted.

Instead, Robey kept the sheet and a week later, sold it for $15,000.

See our earlier story from right after the Inverted Jenny PB's sale.

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