Discover America’s Rarest Stamp – 1868 1¢ Z Grill

The 1868 1¢ Z Grill once owned by Mystic.

Why is the 1868 1¢ Z Grill the rarest U.S. stamp?

In the late 1800s, officials had a real problem with stamps being illegally reused by washing away their cancels. Charles F. Steel came up with a solution – a grilling machine that broke the fibers of the stamp paper and left behind a distinct pattern. This allowed cancellation ink to completely soak into the paper, preventing it from being removed. There were 11 types of grills: “A-J” plus the famous “Z.”

The 1868 1¢ Z Grill (US #85A) was produced for just a few days in late February 1868. It saw much more limited use than other US grilled stamps. In fact, most were used to mail public notices which were thrown away by recipients. Today, only two 1868 1¢ Z Grill stamps are known to exist.

How is the Z Grill different from other grills?

The back of the 1868 1¢ Z Grill once owned by Mystic. It’s especially unique because it has a double grill – a strong grill pattern over a fainter, slightly angled one.

The Z Grill is unique because the ridges have a horizontal orientation. All other grills have vertical. The Z Grill measures approximately 11 x 14 mm and has 14-15 x 17-18 grill points.

Check out this article to learn more about the other types of grills.

The Two Surviving 1868 1¢ Z Grills

Previously owned by Mystic
Part of the Benjamin Miller Collection

The 1868 1¢ Z Grill previously owned by Mystic and the 1868 1¢ Z Grill of the Benjamin Miller Collection are the only two examples of the stamp known to exist. Mystic traded their 1868 1¢ Z Grill to Bill Gross for the unique Inverted Jenny Plate Block in 2005, while the Benjamin Miller example is owned by the New York Public Library and is on long-term loan to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

A Timeline of the 1868 1¢ Z Grill

January 7, 1868

Z Grill First Enters Use

The National Bank Note Company produces the six denominations of Z Grill stamps: 1¢ (US #85A), 2¢ (US #85B), 3¢ (US #85C), 10¢ (US #85D), 12¢ (US #85E), 15¢ (US #85F).

January 7, 1868
March 17, 1868

F Grill Replaces the Z Grill

The stamps with Z Grills were produced for a very short time, with approximately 1,000 of each being made. Since the 1¢ was mainly used on circulars, drop letters, and transient mail, many were thrown away upon receipt.

March 17, 1868
1913

Z Grill Discovered by Philatelic Expert

William L. Stevenson (father of the grill letter classification system) discovers the Z Grill after being unable to match it to any other previously known grill.

1913
January 1915

Stevenson Reports on Z Grill Denominations

Stevenson writes in Collector’s Journal that he has seen only two Z Grills: one 1¢ and one 10¢ stamp, neither on cover.

January 1915
1916

Stevenson Discovers Second 1¢ Z Grill

Stevenson reports to Mekeel’s that he has seen a second 1¢ Z Grill.

1916
c. 1920-28

Scott Catalogue Lists the 1¢ Z Grill for the First Time (US #85A)

c. 1920-28
1923

Stevenson Sells 1¢ Z Grill

Stevenson sells his 1868 1¢ Z Grill, to Elliott Perry who then sells it to Benjamin K. Miller of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on December 16, 1923. According to philatelic expert, Ken Lawrence, Stevenson kept the other example of the 1¢ Z Grill until his death. It remained out of the public eye until 1957.

1923
1925

Miller Donates 1¢ Z Grill

Benjamin K. Miller donates his 1¢ Z Grill to the New York Public Library’s permanent collection.

1925
September 1957

Second 1¢ Z Grill is Revealed

US stamp expert (and dealer) Lester G. Brookman unveils an 1868 1¢ Z Grill he obtained through two Chicago dealers. He sells it to Wiler Schilling Jr. of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to complete his one-of-everything US collection. Schilling obtains a certificate of genuineness from the Philatelic Foundation in New York.

September 1957
1975

1¢ Z Grill Sells for $42,500

The stamp is expertized again and recertified. Its Scott Catalogue value is now $25,000. It sells at a Robert A. Siegel Rarities of the World auction for $42,500.

1975
1977

1¢ Z Grill Sells for $90,000

The 1868 1¢ Z Grill is now valued at $40,000 by Scott Catalogue. It sells at a Sotheby Parke Bernet auction for $90,000 to Superior Stamp & Coin Company in Beverly Hills, California. Superior then sells it to Dr. Jerry Buss.

1977
1986

1¢ Z Grill Becomes the United States’ Most Expensive Stamp

Superior Stamp & Coin auctions the Buss Collection. The 1868 1¢ Z Grill (certified for the third time) is now valued at $110,000 by Scott Catalogue. Robert Zoellner, who is assembling a complete US collection, pays $418,000 for the stamp, setting the record for the most expensive US stamp.

1986
October 1998

Mystic Buys the 1¢ Z Grill and Sets a New Record Price

The 1868 1¢ Z Grill is sold by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries as part of the Robert Zoellner collection. Mystic Stamp buys the stamp for $935,000, a record price for a US stamp. Zachary, the 11 year old son of Don Sundman (Mystic’s president), held the auction paddle and did the bidding.

October 1998
July 7-16, 2000

World Stamp Expo 2000

Mystic brings the 1868 1¢ Z Grill to the World Stamp Expo 2000 in Anaheim, California. Famous professional wrestler “Hillbilly Jim” is one of countless people to come view the stamp.

July 7-16, 2000
August 15-18, 2002

APS STAMPSHOW 2002

Mystic displays the 1868 1¢ Z Grill at the APS STAMPSHOW 2002 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and is given an Award of Appreciation for their exhibit. Celebrity Heidi Klum is one of many to come see the stamp.

August 15-18, 2002
November 2, 2005

The Stamp Trade of the Century

Don Sundman trades the 1868 1¢ Z Grill to “Bond King” Bill Gross (represented by Charles Shreve) for the unique Inverted Jenny Plate Block. Both items are valued at upwards of $3 million each today.

November 2, 2005
May 27, 2006 – October 1, 2007

Both 1¢ Z Grills on Display at Smithsonian National Postal Museum

May 27, 2006 – October 1, 2007
2020

Scott Catalogue Updates Z Grill Details

The number of horizontal points in the Z Grill listing is adjusted to coincide with new information published by Philatelic Foundation expert Jerome Wagshal. The updated listing states the Z Grill measures 14-15 points x 17-18 points. (It previously stated 13-14 points x 17-18 points.)

2020
March 11, 2024

Robert A. Siegel Auctions Announces 1¢ Z Grill Will Be Sold

It’s reported that Bill Gross’s complete collection of classic US stamps (including the 1868 1¢ Z Grill) will go up for auction June 14-15 in New York City.

March 11, 2024

The Future of the 1868 1¢ Z Grill

On June 14-15, 2024, Bill Gross’s complete collection of classic US stamps was auctioned off by Charles F. Shreve and Tracy L. Carey in association with Siegel Auction Galleries. “This is, without question, the most significant and most valuable collection of United States stamps formed this past half century,” Shreve said. “Its appearance at public auction will be a historic event, where all of the rarest and most sought-after stamps issued by the United States will be offered for sale…”

Siegel expected “the entire auction realize $15 to $20 million, with several individual stamps breaking the $1 million mark and the collection’s rarest stamp – the 1868 1¢ Z Grill – on track to become the most valuable American postage stamp with an estimate of $4 to $5 million.”

The top 100 rarest and most valuable items in Gross’s collection (including the 1868 1¢ Z Grill) were auctioned on June 14th, with the Z grill going to an anonymous buyer for a final price of $4.366 million – a new record for a single US stamp.

Want to Learn More? Check Out Our Neat Video Series on the 1¢ Z Grill Below!

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15 Comments

    1. Can you take a macro photo of the grill ONLY? is it 11x14mm in size, points down, horizontal raised ridges?

    2. I also have this stamp but am unable to determine whether it has a “Grill.” Are they really that hard to distinguish?

  1. I also had this stamp and it was stolen as i did not notice it missing until i left the shop . The lines on the back make this stamp different than others. The guy who ran the coin shop is a con artist. This happened in st.louis. It was hinged and I wish I had a way to find it and match the glue on the back. I get sick about it just knowing what I had. Still have a bunch of very old stamps, but i don’t trust anybody. These were all my great grammas and the stamp book is sighted by her in 1912.

  2. I have the stamp. I am trying to figure out if it’s the same I keep looking From your a stamp to my stamp. And trying to figure out if it’s the same. It is torn and it looks like when they tried to remove it it was torn. Can I send a picture?

  3. Sir,
    I think I have this stamp but I am not sure if it is Z Grill.
    Let me know. It is real old stamp that my Dad gave me.
    Thanks

    1. Only two Z Grills are known. And due to that extreme rarity, it’s just very, very unlikely you have one. However, it’s not impossible… and that’s part of the fun of stamp collecting. So if you’ve done thorough research, and still think your stamp might be a rare Z grill, your next step will be to submit to the stamp to the Philatelic Foundation to get a certificate of authenticity. Good luck!

      Here’s a listing of rare stamps that strongly resemble more common stamps.

      #85A – 1c Z grill worth about $2 million – looks like #63
      #539 – 2c Washington worth about $17,500 – looks like #499
      # 594 – 1c Washington worth up to $35K – looks like #632
      #596 – 1c Washington worth about $150,000 – looks like #632
      #613 – 2c Harding worth about $40,000 – looks like #610

  4. Meine Name ist (name removed) und wollte ihnen nur mitteilen das ich zwei weitere Z Grills endeckt habe.
    Eine 15 Cents Lincoln #85F und eine One Cents #85A beide mit 11×14 mm und Horizontalen Points,wo es von beiden bis jetzt nur 2 Exemplare gibt.
    Bei Interesse können Sie sich gerne auf meine E-Mail Adresse melden,gute Scans habe ich zur Verfügung.
    Vielen Dank Mfg

    1. Using Google translate: … I just wanted to let you know that I discovered two more Z grills.
      A 15 Cents Lincoln # 85F and a One Cents # 85A both with 11 × 14 mm and horizontal points, where there are only 2 copies of both so far.
      If you are interested, please feel free to contact me at my email address, I have good scans available.
      Thank you very much

      Only two Z Grills are known. And as we’ve stated before in comments, due to that extreme rarity, it’s extremely unlikely you have one. But, of course, it’s not impossible. So if you’ve done thorough research, and still think your stamp might be a rare Z grill, your next step will be to submit to the stamp to the Philatelic Foundation to get a certificate of authenticity. Good luck!
      Here’s a listing of rare stamps that strongly resemble more common stamps.
      #85A – 1c Z grill worth about $2 million – looks like #63
      #539 – 2c Washington worth about $17,500 – looks like #499
      # 594 – 1c Washington worth up to $35K – looks like #632
      #596 – 1c Washington worth about $150,000 – looks like #632
      #613 – 2c Harding worth about $40,000 – looks like #610

      1. Guten Tag ich hatte mit der Foundstation schon Kontakt,anhand Fotos ist es leider nicht ausreichend.
        Ich komme aus Deutschland und ist es nicht so einfach mit mal kurz Prüfen lassen,was aber nur Persönlich klappen würde.
        Ich habe 30 Monate Briefmarken gesammelt und mich ein ganzes Jahr nur mit Waffelpressungen Grills beschäftigt.
        Ich weiß genau wie die Rippen der Grillmußter verlaufen müssen,
        ich hatte bei Ebay eine 15 Cents Lincoln als #98 30$ und eine One Cents #86 79# ersteigert,die aber größtenteils horizontale Points Spitzen hatten.
        Mit viel Glück habe ich die ersteigert und es sind zu 100% eine #85F und #85A 11×14 mm wo ich auch viele meiner Meinung waren.
        Ist nur ne Frage der Zeit bis ich es Prüfen lassen kann.
        Per E Mail Adresse könnte ich es schwarz auf weiß nachweisen.
        renetomalak@web.de
        Vielen Dank und euch auch noch viel Erfolg, suchen lohnt sich!

  5. How come there is only 2 stamps 85A if they were produced in between Z and E grills 1,489,800 stamps??2.2 days x 2 machines one for Z and one for E grill x3,550 sheets per machine x 200 stamps per sheet???????

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