Copyright 2011-2018 John N. Lupia, III

Fig. Ernest Franz Gambs portrait in St. Louis Philatelist, September 18 (1877).

Ernest Franz Gambs (1858-1902), in 1880 located at 621 South Fifth Street, St. Louis, Missouri, and earlier located at 413 South 4th Street, St. Louis, Missouri; later about 1882 he was located at Box 2631, San Francisco, California, and then to 4 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California, and by 1886-1889 to 234 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, California.

In 1872, he published The Philatelist (1872-1876), began as a stamp dealer but diversified out and became a coin and stamp dealer. In 1876, he continued publishing changing the name to, the St. Louis Philatelist (1876-1882). Later, after 1882, he continued publishing changing the name to, The California Philatelist, Vol. 1-16 (1882-1900). He had a coin department for his magazine. He published a Price List for Rare American Silver and Copper Coins, the 7th edition in 1890.

In 1877 he was a donor to the American Antiquarian Society.

After 1882, his cream-yellow business postal envelopes had his business name and address printed on the upper left hand corner imitating a circular postal mark or cancel inscribed within around the edge : E. F. GAMBS, SAN FRANCISCO, center, BOX 2631.

A biographical sketch of Gambs appeared in 1888 in The Badger State Philatelist, February issue :

"The subject of our sketch, whose name is familiar to nearly every American philatelist, was born in the city of Baltimore, Md., 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 18 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. He had an exclusive with West India Manufacturing Company to sell their 4c private die proprietary stamp for stomach bitters.

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 Pectoral 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.

Fig. E. F. Gambs correspondence with F. C. Lamb, Boston, Massachusetts, postmarked May 31, 1879, back-stamp Blake & Davis #2258 EKU 5/29/1879 LKU 5/8/1880. The recipient was Fayette C. Lamb who in two weeks was to marry Ada Julia Hall that June 16, 1879. The address he used 77 State Street, Boston was a commercial building containing offices of a mining company, fiscal agent for a railroad, and the Bank of the Republic. In just eighteen months from this letter would establish the lumber firm with his business partner Wendell M. Weston, titled : Lamb & Weston. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library.

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 in an old grocery store on Elm Street, in change. It was sold for $50 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."

Fig. E. F. Gambs correspondence with John Kennedy Stout, Attorney, Spokane, Washington, postmarked registered mail, October 13, 1894, San Francisco, California, franked on uprated postal stationery Scott #U350-U76 Entire + a scarce strip of two Scott #232 + scarce Scott #221-A62 3c Jackson purple, total of a 14c registry rate. Stout was a prominent lawyer and politician at Spokane. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. Very Rare. Estimate $150 - $300.

Fig. E. F. Gambs correspondence with well-known Chicago collector and APS member Francis S. Belden, owner of over 11,000 stamps, postmarked registered mail, March 18, 1895, San Francisco, California. Note the address is c/o E. H. Butler & Co., Publishers, since Belden was the School Book agent for the publisher in Chicago. Courtesy Lupia Numismatic Library. Very Rare. Estimate $50 - $80.

On the morning of February 7, 1902, he was found gassed to death in his bed at 1815 Devisadero Street, San Francisco, California. It was believed the pilot light on the stove went out without his being aware while sitting up in bed reading his correspondence asphyxiating him. The San Francisco Call reported, "He had fallen asleep over his letters." His gassing is very unlike that of Wilhelm von Bergen who was found with his head in his oven.

Work :

“Newly Discovered Varieties,” The Old Dominion Philatelist, Vol. 1, No. 6, June (1889) : 3

Bibliography :

The Old Dominion Philatelist, Vol. 1, No. 6, June (1889) : 1

McClean’s Stamp Collector’s Guide (Boston : W. S. McLean, 1889) : 41

“Dealers Directory”, The Numismatist, Vol. 3, No. 5 & 6, March (1891) : 26

Gnecchi, Ercole and Francesco, eds., Guida Numismatica 4th edition. (Milano : U. Hoepli, 1903. Edition) : 567, No. 5938

Winner, Coin & Stamp Journal, Vol. 1, No. 11, November (1875) : 4

Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society (1878) : 30

Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Saint Louis City and County, From the Earliest Periods to the Present Day: Including Biographical Sketches of Representative Men. In Two Volumes, Illustrated. Volume II . (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts & Co., 1883) : 1613

Mason, B-I, No. 3, October (1880) : 12c; H-I, No. 3, December (1879) : 26a, 26c, 27a; M-I, No. 1, June (1884) : 5;

Golden Days for Boys and Girls, Volume XII, No. 40: January 3, 1892, ad

Golden Days for Boys and Girls, Volume XIII, No. 51: November 12, 1892, ad

The Numismatist, Vol. VII, No. 1, January (1894) : front papers second page top left. His address is Box 2631, San Francisco, CA.;

The Numismatist, Vol. VII, No. 2, February (1894) : ad front paper after inside front cover;

The Numismatist, Vol. 8, No. 1, January (1895) : [30] column one top display ad.

The Philatelic Californian, Vol. 1, No. 4, January (1894) : 69 small ad

Descriptive Price Catalogue of the Postage Stamps of all Nations, for sale by L. W. Durbin

Waterloo Courier (Iowa) September 1, 1880, page 2

Harper’s Young People : An Illustrated Weekly, Vol. 1, No. 50, Tuesday, October 12 (1880) : 743

McKenny’s Pacific Coast Directory (1886/1887) listed as the publisher of The California Philatelist

Wayne Youngblood, "Early Stamp Dealers of St. Louis, Missouri," The American Philatelist, October (2019) : 896-898

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