DALLAS — After the stamp collection he'd inherited from his father was destroyed in a flood, William J. Ainsworth's passion for the hobby foundered.
A couple of years later, in 1977, then-postmaster general Benjamin F. Bailar helped Ainsworth re-ignite it by suggesting he give the collection a focus. And for the man who at the time was living in a Chicago suburb and admired President Lincoln, the choice seemed obvious.
Ainsworth took the advice to heart and over the next 32 years amassed more than 10,000 stamps depicting Lincoln, a collection that will go up for auction Friday with a pre-sale estimate of more than $2 million.
"He put together what is probably the definitive collection of Lincoln's image on U.S. postage stamps," said Charles Shreve, president of Dallas-based Spink Shreves Galleries, which is holding the auction in New York City. "It's comprehensive. It's the best."
Shreve said the auction, which will offer the collection up in more than 600 lots, has generated worldwide interest.
Among the collection's highlights is a proof of a block of eight mint-condition 90 cent stamps of Lincoln with his image accidentally printed upside-down. The block, one of only two known, is expected to sell for between $30,000 to $50,000, Shreve said.
"Some guy just happened to take one of those sheets and slip it in upside down," Ainsworth said.
A 90 cent vertical block of six Lincoln stamps from 1869 — rare because it was never broken up — is expected to sell for between $100,000 to $150,000, Shreve said.
"If you're a Lincoln stamp collector, you'd be . . .
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