By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
The Associated Press
Thursday, May 25, 2006; 6:13 PM
WASHINGTON -- The most valuable single American stamp was originally worth only a penny.
The 1-cent stamp, called a Z-grill, contains a picture of Benjamin Franklin. It will be featured at the Washington 2006 stamp show, which opens Saturday and runs through June 2 at the Washington Convention Center.
The show will host first day of issue ceremonies for the Postal Service's "Wonders of America" stamps on opening day, followed by the joint U.S.-Canada issue for Samuel de Champlain on Sunday.
First-day ceremonies are also scheduled at the show for stamps issued by the United Nations, Marshall Islands, Israel and Bermuda.
Expected to draw a lot of attention is the Z-grill. Only two are known to exist, one owned by the New York Public Library and currently on display at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in Washington.
The acquisition of the other allowed Bill Gross, chief investment officer of Pacific Investment Management Company, to finish the only known complete collection of 19th Century U.S. postage stamps.
That stamp will be shown at the stamp show and then, on June 8, will be placed on display at the Postal Museum. The two Z-grills can be seen together there until October 1, 2007.
Grill refers to a pattern printed on the stamp allowing it to absorb ink from a cancellation. There are various patterns referred to by letters of the alphabet.
The Z-grill was issued in 1868. As for its value, one of the two known to exist was traded to Gross last year in exchange for a block of four "inverted Jenny" stamps. Gross had purchased the Jenny stamps at auction for $2.97 million.
Inverted Jenny stamps also are among the country's rarest. Issued in 1918, the 24-cent airmail stamps show a Curtiss Jenny airplane in the center. Some of the stamps had the plane printed upside down and quickly became prized collectors items.
The block of four inverted Jenny stamps will also be displayed at the stamp show, as will other rare stamps from around the world, including displays from the royal stamp collections of Britain and Monaco and the collection of the U.S. Postmaster General.
Also at the show, the Postal Museum will launch its new online research Internet site called Arago.
The site will go live May 27 at http://www.arago.si.edu .
Arago allows browsing through the museum's collection database and provides details of the history of stamps and the role of the post office.
According to the museum, the system is named for 19th century scientist Dominique Francois Jean Arago, a friend of James Smithson, the founding benefactor of the Smithsonian. Arago advocated using the most advanced technology available to educate people.
On the Net:
Washington Stamp Show: http://www.washington-2006.org