It would be forgivable to skip many collecting heavyweights because of the achievements of others prior, and maybe those since, but there is no excuse for overlooking Sir William Avery (1854 – 1908), a British philatelist who was entered on the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists in 1921, as one of the fathers of philately, not least because of the ‘scale’ of his collection.
Sir William B. Avery, from the long-established empire W. & T. Avery scale makers, stepped away from this successful family business, at the fresh age of 39, when he pursued a life of leisure as an English gentleman.
He joined many philatelic organisations and became president of his local society in Birmingham at the time, and later when he’d acquired homes in and around the capital he became a member of the Royal Philatelic Society in London.
By all accounts Avery entertained his philatelic friends regularly with style and grace. Always well dressed and with a genial persona, he became a popular member of what was becoming a well established philatelic community of the world’s greatest stamp collectors. With a home on the Thames near Windsor and a city house in Portland Square, Avery became the Gentleman of Philately.
It’s well documented by philatelic commentators that Avery put together a collection, in a relatively short period of time, that was on the same scale as Tapling and Ferrary’s, and like no other since, and it is said these two are the only collections better than that of Avery by the time of his death. Like Ferrary, Avery’s collection was scattered far and wide when the well known W. H. Peckitt sales of his collection took place after Avery’s passing. But like them he had a comprehensive collection up to 1890 which covered the world.
One of the tactics employed by Avery was to buy collections and any rare items that might be available and even at this early stage of the hobby, Avery knew to keep pace with the philatelic elite he’d need help and he wisely engaged Charles Phillips, who you’ll remember purchased Stanley Gibbons for £25k in 1890. Phillips was one among others who kept Avery at the front of the philatelic chasing pack.
Avery wasn’t shy in putting big sums on anything which he weighed to be of interest or value. Using his apparent business skills and a select band of prominent dealers, Avery scooped up the rarities of Australia, British Guiana, and the USA. One of the stories which illustrates the benefit of using someone like Phillips, as well as indicating Avery had a remarkable philatelic eagerness, and astuteness is when Charles Phillips informed Avery in 1893 that a collector from Bordeaux was selling a 1d and 2d ‘Post Office’ Mauritius as a mint set for $3,400.00, Avery instructed Phillips to leave immediately and buy them, and paid Phillips $125.00 expenses and a $500.00 fee for his services.
Avery thus acquired these treasures for a total of $4,025.00. They later became part of the Arthur Hind collection, via Henry J Duveen – both gargantuan philatelic collectors of their day – for $30,000.00. But it’s a nice illustration of the resourcefulness which served Avery well in buying a unique unused block of the Swiss Double Geneva, and he was the first English collector to acquire an unused example of the 30c USA 1869 Pictorial with inverted flag, again with the aid of Phillips, and Avery had fine stocks of Moldavia, India, Ceylon and Nevis, the former which found their way into another legendary collection, that of Alfred H. Caspary.
It was said after Tapling’s death, that Avery was the largest purchaser of stamps in all Great Britain, and that dealers from England and the continent came to divide sale of their rarities among HM King George V, Ferrary and Avery. If you read about Avery’s breadth of collection it includes every corner of the world, as diverse as Confederate States postmasters’ provisionals, and a Block of twenty GB VR Official penny blacks.
The only appropriate method of assessing Avery’s status among our prestigious set of collectors, would be to weigh him in the philatelic legend scales. If we did, Avery would only be an ounce or two lighter than our silver plated Prince Tapling, and not even a full pound less than than our golden Duke Ferrary.
But, if we were to add grace and style to the scales, then Avery’s genial personality would tip the balance in the Gentleman of Philately’s favour.
Next time we meet the Doctor of Philately Jacques Legrand, who has a tussle with our Legend #1 Georges Herpin. Find out why in Legendary Collector #11.