The Benjamin Franklin Z Grill

Ever wondered what the rarest stamp in the U.S. is?

The “Z Grill” is a 1 cent stamp featuring Benjamin Franklin of which only two are known to exist. The Z Grill is considered one of the rarest United States stamps, along with the 15 cent Lincoln Z Grill and the 10 cent Washington Z Grill.

What is a grill, exactly? In philately, a grill consists of an embossed pattern indented in the stamp in order to prevent postage stamp reuse. The ink of the cancel seeps into the indentation, making it more difficult to wash off the cancellation. The specific “Z” pattern put horizontal ridges into the stamp, rather than the usual vertical ridges. The grill process was the standard for postage stamps in the 1860’s and 1870’s.

Stamp_US_1868_1c_Z_grill_Miller

Only two known 1868 Benjamin Franklin stamps with the Z Grill exist, making them extremely rare. Likely hundreds of thousands of 1 cent Benjamin Franklin stamps were printed, but only two with a Z Grill survived. Both have cancellation marks.

Where are these rare stamps now? The New York Public Library owns one as part of their Benjamin Miller Collection, a collection of rare stamps donated in 1925 by philatelist Benjamin Kurtz Miller.
The other Z Grill rests in a private collection.

In 1998, one Z Grill sold for $935,000 to Mystic Stamp Company. Later, the stamp was traded to Bill Gross for a block of four Inverted Jenny stamps worth $3 million. As a result, Gross became the only owner of a complete collection of American 19th century stamps.

The Invention of Airmail that Swept the Nation

Before airmail was invented, shipping methods were much slower. (Homing pigeons had been used centuries before, but pigeons, to say the least, are not the most sophisticated form of transport.)

But some destinations were inaccessible unless accessed by airplane.

The story of the invention of the airplane is in itself a wonderful tale, but airmail enters the story through the first scheduled airmail service in the UK between North London and Berkshire in 1911. The event was part of the celebration of King George V’s coronation. This first service took 16 flights, carrying 35 bags of mail in total. It stopped only about a month after it started due to bad weather.

But the invention of the airplane was too useful to ignore. While the U.S. government was slow to adopt the incredible invention of the airplane, the U.S. Post Office expressed interest in the airplane early on. They tested a mail flight between Garden City and Mineola, NY. He dropped mail from the plane to the ground where the postmaster picked it up.

Curtiss_Oriole_at_Houston_TX_1919

The famous Jenny airplane.

The Post Office continued to conduct unofficial flights within different states between 1911 and 1912.

The first regular airmail system in the United States started in May 1918 with a route that ran between Washington, D.C. And New York City.

This is also where the famous Inverted Jenny stamp comes into play. Many of the original planes used to transport mail were Jenny training planes from the Army. The Jenny stamp was issued in 1918 in honor of the first airmail service – but things didn’t quite go as planned. You can read more here.

Airmail postage cost 24 cents.

Airmail continued to expand and grow in the U.S., and planes grew safer as time went on.

Of course, airmail was quite popular with stamp collectors. Philatelists often went out of their way to find the first airmail flights to send letters and collect the cancels from such flights.

The Roll of Distinguished Philatelists

They’re the crème de la crème of philatelists; you have to be pretty acclaimed to be on this list.

The “Roll of Distinguished Philatelists” has only the best stamp collectors in the world.

The Philatelic Congress of Great Britain created the list in 1921. The Congress still meets once a year, each time in a different location.

How does one get on this distinguished list? You must help develop the area of philately in some way, whether through research, expertise, or otherwise. The Congress will judge nominations each year.

Those elected onto the roll get to sign one of the three pieces of parchment with other members’ signatures. That’s right – parchment. It can’t get much more traditional than that.

King George V, a famous philatelist, the first to sign the roll.

King George V, a famous philatelist, the first to sign the roll.

So how did the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists get started, anyway? In 1919, a man named Percy C. Bishop suggested an order to honor the best of the best in philately. Bishop was at the time a member of the London Stamp Club, but he wanted to create an order that exceeded any such club in existence. The President of the London Stamp Club proposed Bishop’s idea to a local stamp paper, and in 1920, a jury published twenty-five names for membership of the order. The order still hadn’t achieved official status, however; but in 1921 the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists was finally created. It received the signature of King George V, also a famous philatelist. He signed the official parchment, taking the place of number one on the list, and thirty-nine more philatelists signed the parchment.

That was just the beginning. Each year after that, excluding the war years between 1940-1946, the Congress meets to vote on further signatures to add to the roll.

You can learn more about the roll on the Association of British Philatelic Societies website. (Link)