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Bill Gross And The Pony Express

It's no secret that Pimco's Bill Gross may be the most passionate stamp collector in the Billionaire's Club.

He's also generous with his treasures.

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Gross is about to auction off potentially a few million dollars worth of his stamps to help fund a wing of the National Postal Museum at the Smithsonian, located in an old post office off the mall in Washington DC. He wants to help create a Mecca for stamp lovers. Most of the museum's current collection is "buried in a basement" says Gross, and his plan is to help bring those stamps out into the open for the public to see.

Wait 'til you hear what he's giving the museum.

But first, here's what he's auctioning off next month through Spink Shreves Galleries, a series of stamps from the Confederate States and British North America (Canada).

One is a 10-cent stamp from Victoria, Texas, from 1863, which Gross paid $115,000 for ten years ago.

stamp_10-cent_texas.jpg
Source: Spink Shreves Galleries

Here's a stamp of a very young Queen Victoria from 1851, which may go for as much as $150,000.

stamp_queen-victoria.jpg
Source: Spink Shreves Galleries

This strip of three 2 Pence stamps from 1857 is valued at $200,000, called "one of the great rarities of Newfoundland."

stamp_2-pence.jpg
Source: Spink Shreves Galleries

Possibly the most highly sought after stamp is this 1861 envelope bearing the world's only known example of a stamp mistakenly issued as a mirror image of its intended design. It's called the "Mount Lebanon, Louisiana 5 cent Postmaster's provisional," and Gross paid $385,000 for it. Ten years ago. Imagine what it's worth now.

stamp_mirror-image.jpg
Source: Spink Shreves Galleries

And you though paying 44 cents for a stamp was a lot.

Then there are the stamps Gross is giving the Smithsonian to display. They include the famous upside down Jenny airplane stamps, of which 100 were printed before someone realized the mistake. There's also the earliest known usage of an official postage stamp of the United States. But, to me, the most fascinating story involves the Pony Express. Gross says a Pony Express mailman was attacked by Indians, who "scalped the rider". His horse wandered around and eventually died. Two years later, a wagon train found the dead horse. Letters were still inside the saddlebags. The pioneers picked up the letters and had them delivered. Bill Gross has at least one of the envelopes which carried those letters. "Even if you're not a stamp collector, that's pretty cool," he says.

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In all, Gross says he probably owns 10,000 stamps in a collection worth "eight figures, maybe low nine...it's kind of embarrassing to talk about." As for the stamps he's giving away, "It's probably not of the same caliber with other Smithsonian exhibits...but it is pretty cool." He knows that if most people had a few million dollars and were given the choice of buying a diamond or "a piece of paper" they'd probably buy the diamond. He'd go for the paper every time.

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