THE THEFT OF THE
WORLD'S RAREST STAMP
[A Kerlock Shomes Mystery]
as reported by Dr. Warsaw
London, June 1, 1943
Having for over a generation been the chronicler of Kerlock Shomes, as Boswell was to Sam Johnson, I have come to realize that one can sometimes "tell too much."
After I had recorded the "Mystery of the Carrier Use of the One Cent 1861" I was so busy with my "bugology" research that I had no time to contact my famous detective friend. Eventually, however, I had a few hours off, and called up the Baker Street apartment to see if Shomes was in town. Much to my surprise good old Mrs. Simpkins, who answered the phone, said that her master was in, but was too much occupied to see me. This was a new experience for me, as in the past I was always welcome, no matter how busy Shomes might be.
I waited a few days and then called again. Same answer. "What," said I to myself "could be the occasion for this aloofness?"
Feeling that something was wrong, I jumped a taxi and hastened to Baker Street. Mrs. Simpkins met me at the door, but said that Shomes was very busy and did not want to be disturbed.
However, I said I would go up and at least say "hello." When I entered the sitting room, my friend was lolling back in his chair, smoking his pipe and apparently anything but "busily occupied."
Seeing me enter, Shomes, said "Ah, Warsaw, haven't seen you in some time. What brings you here?"
"Shomes," I replied, "I have tried on several occasions to see you, but my overtures have always been declined. Have I done anything to merit your displeasure? As life-long friends and former roommates, this standoffishness is surprising, to say the least."
"Well, Warsaw," said Shomes, I might as well tell you. For many years you have been my assistant and have recorded my remarkable (pardon the word) adventures, wherein I have solved every problem that has been brought to me. Most of these had previously been submitted to Scotland Yard, but, as you know, that institution can solve only the simplest questions. I never expected, however, that you, my stooge for over a generation, would be the means of making me rediculous in the eyes of the philatelic world."
"But, Shomes," I said "that incident of the "Carrier Use of the One Cent 1861' was something that only those familiar with the customs in America would understand, and as I had studied these customs overseas, I naturally saw the hoax back of the whole proposition. Why penalize me for having, for once, been wiser than you?"
"That's just the point, Warsaw. For years I have never made a mistake, and I have taken a great deal of satisfaction in showing up the 'professionals' (?) at the Yard, who seem to think they know everything. Now to have you, who have always misjudged the facts when they have been presented to you, explode such a palpable hoax as the Yates cover, recorded in your last 'Kerlock Shomes Exploit,' is just too much, that's all."
"Under the circumstances, Shomes," I said, "I don't know as I can blame you, but, with my knowledge of American customs, I do not want to see you made a monkey of at the International Exhibition in 1946."
"Of course, Warsaw, I appreciate your consideration, but that does not change the fact that my pride has been hurt, and that, for the first time, I have discovered that I am not infallible. Let's hope that it does not happen again. And now that you are here, suppose we have a spot of tea, and drink to our renewed friendship."
Mrs. Simpkins, apparently much relieved, did the honors, and soon we were back on the old terms that had existed when hackney cabs were the de-luxe means of transportation in London.
After the tea things were removed I asked Shomes to favor me with some of his favorite music, and for twenty minutes I sat enraptured while my friend got out his snare drum and went through his own interpretation of Beethoven's Second Symphony.
He had hardly finished when the telephone rang. Shomes answered it and I heard him say, "Yes, I am at liberty if you wish to come over."
Hanging up the receiver he said to me, "Warsaw, its fortunate that you called. We are in for a very interesting evening, and in a few minutes you will know the reason. Light up a cigar while I look through some old stamp publications to refresh my memory on a most perplexing philatelic problem."
I followed his instructions and at the same time picked up the Times to see what were the latest quotations on certain of my favorite stocks Bugs, Inc., to be exact.
In a few minutes the doorbell rang and Mrs. Simpkins announced our visitor, an excited old gentleman who bustled into the room very much out of breath.
Without waiting for a formal introduction, our arrival burst out with "Mr. Shomes, I am Mr. Greenspan, who telephoned you a few minutes ago, and I came to consult you"
"About the disappearance of the $40,000 British Guiana?" queried Shomes.
"Why, yes," said Greenspan, "but how did you know what it was I wanted to consult you about?" (In college we were taught never to use a preposition to end a sentence with!)
"Mr. Greenspan," said Shomes, "for several years the philatelic world has wondered whatever became of this famous stamp. It was sold by 'private treaty,' after the owner, Mr. Hind, died, and no one to date has been able to locate its whereabouts. I can see that you are the answer to this great question."
"But, Mr. Shomes, " said Greenspan, "how did you imagine that I was the purchaser of that world-famous stamp, and that it was on that account that I called you up tonight?"
"I didn't, said Shomes, "until you came into the room just now. I have had a few minutes to look you up in 'Who's Who in Philately' and I found that you are not only rated as a very wealthy man, but one who seeks to possess the rarest of stamps, irrespective of their price. This particular stamp, which was sold a few years ago, and is said to be (Shomes winked at me) the only one in existence, has been lost to philately. Only a millionaire could buy it, and I took the chance, a mere chance, I admit, that you were the one who acquired it."
"Well," said Greenspan, "your assumption was correct, although to date this purchase has been kept a strict secret. The fact is, however, that my famous stamp has been stolen, and that Scotland Yard has been able to do nothing to locate the thief. Consequently I came to you as the last resort when all other channels of investigation failed."
While Mr. Greenspan paused to fill his pipe, Shomes shot me one of his knowing looks, as much as to say "why won't people ever learn? If they would only come to me at the start, instead of at the finish, they would save money, and hours of mental torture."
After filling his own pipe, Shomes remarked, "What does the recovery of this stamp mean to you in pounds, shillings and pence? Not that I am mercenary, far from it, but to me it seems a very trivial matter."
"Mr. Shomes," said our guest, "that stamp is the only one ever found, and its value cannot be measured in terms of money. However, I would gladly pay what I gave for it, $40,000, to have it back."
"Then," said Shomes, "draw your check for that amount and I will hand you over the stamp."
To our amazement Shomes went to his safe, extracted a soiled envelope, and handed it to Mr. Greenspan. Inside was the famous stamp, including the hinge with which it had been mounted by Count Ferrari before it came into the possession of Mr. Hind.
I shall never forget the look on the face of our guest as he clutched his "pet." Then his expression changed, and he said to Shomes "How did you happen to have this stamp in your safe? I cannot believe that you would buy stolen property. Unless you give me a satisfactory answer I shall be compelled to report you to the police."
"Don't bother," said Shomes, "as I can easily prove my innocence. I found this stamp in its envelope in the subway this afternoon, where it had evidently been dropped by the thief who stole it from you. I knew that sooner or later I should hear something about it, as events have proved, so I am glad to restore it to its rightful owner. Tear up your check, Mr. Greenspan, and accept the return of your stamp with my compliments. Hereafter, however, come to me first instead of wasting your time by going to Scotland Yard."
Mr. Greenspan could not express his gratitude too deeply. Hurriedly placing the envelope in his inside pocket he bade us "good night" and hastened down the stairs.
After he had gone, Shomes said to me, "Warsaw, I didn't have the heart to tell him, but that stamp is not the only one in existence. I have a block of four of them on cover, and have never told anyone, until now, about it."
Whereupon Shomes again went to his safe, produced the cover and we were gloating over it when a German bomb struck the house. Of course we rushed for the nearest air-raid shelter, and left everything, including the cover, just as it was.
The next morning we returned to see what damage had been done. To our amazement everything was gone. No house, no safe, no cover and no snare drum.
In horror I looked at Shomes, but he only smiled and said "Well, anyway, Greenspan still has the only l¢ 1856 British Guiana known."