Ernest F. Gambs

The subject of our sketch, whose name is familiar to nearly every American philatelist, was born in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, Nov. 14, 1858.

He first became interested in philatelic matters at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1872, conceiving the idea from some of his school companions at the Washington University in the Mound City. About the same time he acted as agent for Lewis Boysen & Bro., stamp dealers, at Buffalo, New York, who have long since retired from business.

In the fall of 1872 he had occasion to revisit his old home, the Monumental City, and where by chance he picked up a very fine collection of stamps, consisting of about three hundred varieties, in an old second hand book store, on West Baltimore Street, at the exceedingly low price of five dollars. To be sure, the collection was small, but it was quality and not quantity that made it a valuable one.

Among other rarities a shilling violet Nova Scotia stamp was found, for which the late L.W. Durbin paid him ten dollars in exchange, which was considered a fancy price for one stamp in those days. The balance of the collection brought him sufficient returns to enable him to invest his small capital in stamps at wholesale, and thus, this collection really formed the foundation for his future career.

After graduating in school, young Gambs secured a situation as mailing clerk on the St. Louis Courier, a German evening paper, which, however, failed after an existence of about eighteen months. His next position was as clerk in a mercantile house, which position he held for three years, at the same time devoting his evenings to the stamp business, which, however, was growing at such a marvelous rate that he found it necessary to resign his position as clerk, in order to give his stamp business the time and attention it required. Accordingly, he abandoned the same, and it was with great reluctance that his employers allowed him to leave, as he was regarded by them as an honest, upright, and energetic young man, bound to succeed where success was possible.

In 1875 he opened an office for the sale of stamps in St. Louis, since which time he has followed the business exclusively.

In 1876 he commenced publishing the St. Louis Philatelist, a gratuitous publication devoted to stamp collecting and his business.

In 1877 he published The Stamp Dealers Director, which met with a large sale. He also made a specialty of dealing in U.S. private revenue stamps, and there is probably not a drug store in the city of St. Louis that has not been ransacked by him in search of rarities.

A singular incident occurred to him one day when a lad selling matches entered his office on South 5th Street (now South Broadway). The matches happened to be stamped with the rouletted variety of the now-obsolete 1-cent blue Alligator Match Company stamps, which are now very rare and valued at $5 each. He purchased all (not quite a dozen remaining boxes) and has never been able to secure any since. Another singular and lucky find, made one winter’s evening in 1877, while he was making the rounds of drug stores on North Broadway, in the Mound City, were twenty-one bottles of T.W. Marsden’s Pectorial Balm, upon each of these bottles was a 4-cent black Marsden’s proprietary stamps, which were captured at ten cents each, and were valued at $5 per stamp, and so might be mentioned dozens of similar fortunate discoveries but space forbids.

In 1879 he added American silver and copper coins to his business. One of the finest and most valuable American pieces which Mr. Gambs was the fortunate possessor of was a very fine 1802 half dime, which he secured by chance in an old grocery store on Elm Street, in change. It was sold for fifty dollars to Wm. P. Brown, the pioneer coin and stamp dealer of New York. Mr. Brown refused $200 for it, but later sold it at auction, only bringing $147.50, being much less than he had anticipated. The third time however it was advertised at auction and pronounced the finest of 1802 half dimes ever discovered in this or any other country, it brought $176, and was knocked down to a Philadelphia numismatic speculator, who sold it afterwards for $225, nearly five thousand times its face value.

In the fall of 1882 Mr. Gambs became seriously ill through overwork, so as to confine him to the hospital. He was prostrated to such an extent that two physicians at one time gave up his recovery. A change of climate was necessary and he was compelled to leave St. Louis for San Francisco. After several weeks rest he was restored to perfect health and in consequence of the salubrious climate of the golden shores of the Pacific, he resolved permanently to locate in San Francisco.

The stamp business being as fascinating as ever, and finding himself able once more to give the same his attention, he opened an office in the spring of 1883 on Montgomery Street, a leading thoroughfare in the metropolis of the Pacific coast.

Although publisher of the California Philatelist, a devotee to the collecting of stamps and his business, he has not issued it as frequent as formerly, as he finds the immense amount of stamps already in use and constantly appearing makes price lists almost impracticable. He therefore gives most of his attention to approval sheets, and in future will make that department a specialty.

Personally, Mr. Gambs is of a genial disposition and well-liked by all with whom he comes in contact in everyday life, as he is popular among the great army of stamp collectors who have had dealings with him. He is five feet ten inches in height, weighs 190 pounds, and is unmarried.

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