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America’s Rarest Stamp The 1868 Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill

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The Benjamin Franklin Z Grill, more commonly known as the Z-Grill, is a United States postage stamp issued in 1868 featuring a portrait of Benjamin Franklin. It is considered one of the rarest and most valuable stamps in the world of philately. The distinct feature of this stamp, from which it derives its name, is the Z-shaped pattern of tiny square indentations embossed into the paper. This embossing, known as grilling, was intended to prevent postage fraud by allowing the cancellation ink to be absorbed more deeply, thereby making it impossible to wash off and reuse the stamp.

1868 One-cent “Z” Grill America's most valuable postage stamp
1868 One-cent “Z” Grill America’s most valuable postage stamp. This example is the only one in private hands, currently belonging to Bill Gross. It has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $5,000,000.

Grilling was applied to various U.S. stamps between 1867 and 1871. The grills came in different patterns and sizes, identified by letters such as A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, among others. However, the Z Grill is unique not only because of its distinct pattern but also because of its rarity; only two known examples of the Z-Grill are confirmed to exist.

The use of grilling was discontinued as it was found to weaken the paper and, consequently, did not provide a substantial advantage over other anti-fraud measures. However, the brief period during which grills were used has made these stamps highly prized by collectors.

The Z-Grill stamps feature a 1-cent denomination, which was typical for regular correspondence at the time. The design showcases a profile bust of Benjamin Franklin, a common subject on the earliest U.S. stamps, reflecting his contributions as a founding father and his role as the first Postmaster General of the United States.

The 1868 1-cent Z-grill from the Benjamin K Miller Collection
The 1868 1-cent Z-grill from the Benjamin K Miller Collection at the New York Public Library

The known examples of the Z-Grill are meticulously documented in the philatelic community. The rarity of the stamp has commanded considerable attention in the auction market. One of the two known Z-Grills was part of the estate of the noted philatelist Robert Zoellner and was purchased at auction in 1998 by Bill Gross, an influential bond investor and a prominent stamp collector. In a notable trade in 2005, Gross exchanged one of his Z-Grills for a block of four Inverted Jenny stamps, valued at approximately $3 million, effectively making the Z-Grill’s value at least equal to that amount. The other example is owned by the New York Public Library as part of the Benjamin Miller Collection

This stamp’s significance extends beyond its rarity and the innovative attempt at fraud prevention. It represents a pivotal moment in the history of postal service, where technological innovation intersected with everyday communication needs. Today, the Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill remains a legendary piece within philately, emblematic of the rich history and evolving challenges of postal services.

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