"Virgin find of Hawaiian Missionaries. Very important. Come out at once."
As John Klemann began his business day in New York on November 22, 1919, he was
greeted with these words in a telegram from his friend and fellow stamp dealer,
Bertram W. H. Poole of Los Angeles. Klemann was one of the prominent stamp dealers
of the world with a first class clientele. Klemann replied:
Can't leave until December 5th. Wire detailed list of
what there is with asking price, and if satisfactory will wire you funds to make
purchase for us. Nassau Stamp Company. Poole replied with details.
Thirty-five Hawaiian Missionary stamps, two's, five's and
thirteen's, pairs of each used and unused. Price a hundred thousand dollars.
Klemann answered: Price seems high. Will come out.
Arrange to leave as much before December 5th as affairs permit. John A. Klemann.
And so the saga started.
Was this virgin find the long rumored hoard of Missionaries? Stories abounded (and
persist) of a cache of Missionaries secreted away in New England. No time to lose.
Sitting in Klemann's office when Poole's message came in was Alfred H. Caspary.
At 41 years of age, Caspary owned one of the greatest stamp collections in the
world. Included in Caspary's collection were seven Missionaries, including the
famous 2¢ cover he picked up at the Worthington Auction in 1917. Caspary backed
Klemann with $50,000 to use toward acquiring the new find on condition that
Caspary would have first pick.
Klemann was on the train two days later and arrived in Los Angeles the evening of
November 30. As business started on December 1, he was at Charles Goodman's stamp
store to meet S. L. Wood, an agent of George H. Grinnell, owner of the virgin find.
A little later, Grinnell himself arrived and negotiations began. Grinnell's price
was $90,000 and he disclosed he had eight more damaged copies he was holding out -
forty-three new Missionaries in all! Negotiations resolved at a price of $65,000
for all forty-three. Later that day, Klemann saw the stamps, at the vault of the
Los Angeles Trust Co. and agreed to buy them, understanding them to be the entire
find. Here were used and unused examples of Scott Nos. 1, 2 and 3, including
unused pairs of each. No less than three pairs of the 2¢ value, two pairs used and
one unused, were there. Klemann had secured the most important stamp find ever
known. Of all the Missionaries, only the later printed Scott No. 4 was missing
from the hoard.
Klemann paid Grinnell $1,000 on the spot and gave Grinnell another $25,000 on
December 3 while packing the stamps for shipment to a bank in San Francisco where
Klemann would get the balance. The final payment of $39,000 was handed to
Grinnell on December 5 at a bank vault in San Francisco and Klemann took the
package. Klemann showed the stamps to a few dealers in San Francisco and headed
back to New York, arriving there December 13.
Immediately, Klemann had the new stamp photographed. Caspary came to his office
in the afternoon and selected sixteen for which he paid $75,000. On December 15,
Klemann received a phone call from Caspary that must have made Klemann's heart
sink. Caspary told him he was convinced the stamps were all fake.
Klemann returned Caspary's $75,000 and rushed back to Los Angeles. There he filed
a lawsuit against Grinnell to recover his money. The case went to trial in June,
1922. Extensive testimony focused on whether the stamps were genuine. Experts on
printing and on stamps testified a photoengraving process produced the Grinnells.
Enlarged photographs were used to compare genuine stamps with the Grinnells. Two
collections of genuine Missionaries were brought into the court for the judge to
make personal comparisons. Grinnell did little to counter this testimony, arguing
instead that Klemann, the expert, bought them without warranty. When the trial
ended the judge declared the stamps fake, ordered Grinnell to repay Klemann and
upon doing so, Klemann was to return the Grinnells to Mr. Grinnell. By a
settlement, the case was concluded with Grinnell paying some of the money to
Klemann and Klemann returning the stamps to Grinnell.
Eighty years later, debate over these Grinnell Missionaries continues. Much focus
was given to the postmarks seen on some of the Grinnells. Caspary testified the
postmarks were one of the points that convinced him the Grinnells were fake. In
1954, George Linn, the founder of Linn's Stamp Weekly, ultimately agreed the stamps
were fake largely based upon the postmarks. In 1957, Stanley Ashbrook, the famous
mid-20th Century author and expert on postal history and postmarks, declared the
More recent publicity places much reliance on circumstances surrounding how
Grinnell came into possession of these stamps and who, if they are forgeries, did
or did not make them. There are two ways to consider the Grinnells. One is to
focus on the stamps and postmarks themselves and to wonder how, considering the
numerous differences, they could be genuine. The other way is to look at the
story of their find, the evidence accumulated to support a provenance and to wonder
how, considering that evidence, they could be fake.
Comparing the stamp designs of the Grinnells with those of genuine Missionaries,
significant differences appear in enlarged images or under a magnifying glass. The
large numerals have slightly different shapes, the fancy borders have small but
unmistakable variations. Each letter found in the Grinnells differs from those in
genuine Missionaries - some only a little and some a lot. Proponents of the
Grinnells explain these differences by arguing there were multiple printings of the
Missionaries. Others argue the Grinnells were made by a process of stereotyping
either with plaster casts or by photoelectrotype.
So far as the postmarks are concerned, none of the Grinnell postmarks match a
postmark used at the Honolulu Post Office in the 1850's, although they resemble
them. Proponents of the Grinnells argue the Grinnell postmarks are from different
devices but are ones ordered by Postmaster Whitney. Others argue the differences
between the postmarks are so severe the Grinnell postmarking devices must have been
made by a different process and manufacturer and from different material than the
original boxwood devices ordered by Whitney. Also, all four devices Whitney
ordered of style 236.11 are seen on covers and none match the Grinnells. However,
one of the four devices Whitney ordered of style 236.05 has never been detected on
a genuine cover or stamp. To see genuine postmarks of the styles 236.05 and 236.11
please go to Honolulu Foreign Mail Postmarks to 1886.
Also found on the Grinnells are two types of cancels: the Jupiter cancel
and the circular grid of squares cirgrid28-6(6 x 5).
See Cancels - Bars > Circular Grids.
Differences have been noted between the Grinnell cancels and the genuine cancels
of these types.
People who have examined multiple Grinnells note paper varieties among the Grinnells,
some unlike any genuine Missionary. Others note the ink color generally is too
blue, without the tinge of green seen in the genuine and that the postmarks are too
cherry red, without the element of orange found in the genuine. Proponents of the
Grinnells dismiss these differences as things to expect in multiple printings and
usage over months or years. Others argue the period in which the Grinnells, if
genuine, could have been produced is a mere six months and the demand was too small
to justify multiple printings or extended usage.
Are the proponents of the Grinnells right? In early 2002, descendants of Grinnell submitted fifty-one Grinnells
to the Expert Committee of the Royal Philatelic Society London. After two and a half years of intensive study
using all available high technology methods to examine the paper, ink, postmarks and typography and a full
review of the collateral information submitted by the descendants, late in 2004 the Committee issued
certificates finding the Grinnells are forgeries but as of the Spring of 2006, has not published its analysis.
Nevertheless, the end result is consistent with the 1922 judgment in Klemann v. Grinnell so the findings of
those who have studied the Grinnells extensively (Alfred Caspary, Judge Wood, George Linn and the Royal's Expert
Committee) remains the same - the Grinnells are forgeries.
The following pages reveal significant differences between Grinnell "postmarks" and "typography" and the
postmarks and typography on genuine Missionaries. Examination of these differences compels the conclusion that
the Grinnells are nothing like genuine Missionaries and their postmarks are nothing like genuine postmarks.
Indeed, proponents of the Grinnells concede these differences. However, they offer collateral information to
suggest there was an authorized or unauthorized contemporary printing using an undocumented press and unique
type unknown on other publications from Hawaii in the 1850's, printed on unique paper with unique ink, and
further, that the product of this printing was taken, along with unique postmarking devices and unique
cancellers, to Waialua, a remote outpost at the far end of Oahu, where a missionary wife used the Grinnells for
correspondence sent to a friend in Massachusetts. At the end of the day, the collateral information urged by
the Grinnell proponents failed to explain the different typography and postmarks to the Committee's satisfaction.
I have examined many Missionaries, a collection of excellent black and white enlarged photographs of all
recorded Grinnells and a large collection of the postmarks used in Honolulu in the 1850's. To date (Spring,
2006), I have examined only one Grinnell closely but I now have offers from their owners to make more extensive
examinations and will do so. The one Grinnell I examined does confirm the differences noted at the 1922 trial
and by examiners since.
Comparison of Postmark Style 236.05 on genuine strikes and
Comparison of Postmark Style 236.11 on genuine strikes and
Comparison of Printer's Type.
The Sundman Lecture, October 18, 2003.