Investment Firm Founder William Gross Gives $8 Million to National Postal Museum

The donation includes a block of
The donation includes a block of "Inverted Jennys," with the art printed upside down. (Benjamin K. Miller Collection -- New York Public Library Via Ap)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When William H. Gross was a child, his mother collected sheets of 3-cent stamps, hoping they would appreciate over time and cover her son's college tuition.

They didn't.

"She had a great idea, but she had the wrong stamps," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. As an adult, Gross started amassing his own stamps, building one of the most important collections in the world. In the meantime, he became a rich man with his own investments.

And Tuesday, "to validate her good gesture towards me," Gross gave the National Postal Museum a gift of $8 million. It is the single largest gift in the museum's history.

The funds will enable the museum to add a 12,000-square-foot gallery, named for Gross, to the 65,000-square-foot facility near Union Station. Scheduled to open in 2012, the gallery will provide room for the permanent display of 5,000 stamps and objects from the museum's 6 million-piece collection.

The founder of Pimco, a global investment firm headquartered in Newport Beach, Calif., Gross said he wanted to give the public greater access to the museum. "I have been to the museum several times and had a tour of the basement. I saw their fabulous collection. There is a lot of history, but it is down in the basement. The public wasn't benefiting," he said.

A native of Middletown, Ohio, Gross received degrees from Duke University and the University of California at Los Angeles. He won the money for UCLA business school by playing blackjack in Las Vegas. "I was going in the Navy to be a pilot. I had five months after graduation from Duke. I had 200 bucks and hopped on a freight train to Vegas. I worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day for five months and turned it into $10,000," he recalled.

In addition to his $8 million gift, Gross donated three historic items: a commemorative envelope from the Pony Express and an envelope with the earliest known example of a U.S. postage stamp -- the 10-cent George Washington. "The Pony Express-stamped letter was sent from San Francisco to the East Coast. The one rider was caught and scalped by Indians, but two years later a satchel of mail was found on the dead pony. This was one of the letters," Gross said.

The third gift is a block of four 1918 "Inverted Jennys," stamps on which the picture of a plane was printed upside down. The value of the three artifacts is $2 million, a museum representative said.

"The gift is phenomenal," Allen Kane, the museum's director, said of the $8 million. "Stamps are a way to view the history and heroes of the United States."

The remainder of the $18 million construction cost for the William H. Gross Stamp Gallery will be raised privately, the museum said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company