Our next instalment of philatelic greatness is a man whose collection was as monumental as many of the true stamp legends we have already highlighted, such as Ferrary, Hind and Caspary. Josiah K Lilly Jnr (1893 to 1966), an American Philatelist, amassed a collection that took ten gigantic sales over an almost two year period to dispose of and in which included some of the rarest and most prized items contained in a single holding. This is a feat which few have ever been able to achieve before or since.
Of course, to do such a thing Lilly had to be enormously wealthy and indeed his fortune probably equalled, or surpassed, many of his philatelic predecessors. Lilly was an industrialist and businessman who for five decades headed up the pharmaceutical company his grandfather founded – Eli Lilly and Company. This business he grew to be one of the largest pharmaceutical organisations in the world, his successes in the domain of drugs helped to furnish him with the resources to satisfy his love of collecting. Lilly was a collector of many things, not just stamps. He assembled world renowned collections of jewellery, manuscript, books, coins, military miniatures and antique weaponry. His rare books form today the Lilly library (house now at the Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana), his coins were acquired by The Smithsonian Institution in Washington and his military miniatures are part of the collections of Cape Cod’s Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts. But his stamps and postal history were dispersed far and wide when between 1967 and 1968 the enormity of his collection was presented. It included one of the greatest ever collections of rare mint stamps housed in 250 albums, one of the best USA Postmaster Provisionals (including the Blue Boy Cover he purchased in 1955 for $3750 sold in 1981 by David Feldman for $1m) as well as Hawaii and US Confederates. Lilly also had the mint 1918 Inverted Jenny Block (Position 81-82/91-92) among his treasures. His British Commonwealth held the famous Mauritius 1848 “Post Paid” one penny block of four previous held by Hind and Caspary. His holding also consisted of comprehensive studies of Germany, Scandinavia, France, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and even more specialised assemblages of revenues, match and medicine and telegraph stamps.
But unlike many of our past legends his involvement in the wider community is inconspicuous and in fact there are no accolades or merits to record here. This is somewhat astonishing given the size and scale of his stamp collection. Lilly’s philatelic assets dwarfed numerous of those who have a string of philatelic letters after their name, however in spite of this deficiency it wouldn’t be right not to bring Lilly to the attention of our audience. In a way Lilly is a bit like Ferrary and King Carol II, whose stamp activities are their sole reason for qualification into this hall of legends. Lilly earns his place because he was quite simply an extraordinary stamp collector who assembled one of the all time great collections ever to come to market. Admittedly, he had a budget which would equal the GDP of some small nations, his passion for our beloved adhesives makes Lilly a true philatelists whose activities did much for our hobby, not least injecting into our sport incredible sums of money over decades. Some commentators rank Lilly in the top twenty of the world’s greatest stamp collectors and although he would perhaps only make the top fifty in many of those who care to do their research, it would certainly be difficult to argue that he doesn’t deserve a place on our podium. It is easy to see how if he’d focused purely on his stamps he may have made it into the top ten, maybe the top three. It is then relatively easy to name Josiah K Lilly Jnr, who like many of us stamp enthusiasts was typical in nature and habits, being was a phenomenal collector. Josiah K Lilly Jnr is The Collecting Philatelist.
You can catch-up on the previous 35 legendary collectors by clicking the links: Legendary Collectors: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, Part 26, Part 27, Part 28, Part 29, Part 30, Part 31, Part 32,Part 33, Part 34, and Part 35.