Like most veteran casino dealers, Denny Moreau heard plenty of stories about the working stiffs who made a score from a George high roller.
A generous gambler with a gargantuan bankroll has handed the price of a starter home to more than one fortunate dealer or cocktail waitress over the years, but Moreau just earned a living.
Before retiring in 2004, the dice jockey spent 40 years working in local gambling halls. Although he’d collect ID badges from the Fremont, International, Dunes, Tropicana, Aladdin, Silver Slipper, Castaways and Riviera, he spent most of the past two decades at the Las Vegas Hilton. He worked from the Las Vegas era depicted in Scorsese’s “Casino” well into the megaresort phase of the Strip’s evolution.
At 67, Denny Moreau wasn’t a wild guy. He was a regular guy with a nice wife named Olga. Although he possesses a lounge comic’s repertoire of one-liners, his hobby is stamp collecting.
That’s right, stamps. Want to make something of it?
Moreau is a proud member of the National Philatelic Society. He’s collected for 30 years.
But how can I put this gently?
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant didn’t star in “The Philatelic Story.” Although Moreau is a genuine green-felt Vegas guy, Robert DeNiro wasn’t the favorite to play him in a movie.
But this is where our story begins. Moreau finally retires from the casino racket and gets a chance to relax and pursue his philatelic passion. He rediscovers a small, white box that once held Andes Candies but is now filled with canceled and tattered 2-cent stamps with George Washington in blushing hue. He bought the box two decades earlier from a friend for $7.50. Its contents helped collectors study their craft.
The box had bounced around through several moves, in and out of storage. It sat in the back of a desk drawer for years waiting for Moreau to get around to it.
When he did in June 2007, he sorted through the various “2-cent reds” and came across one particularly intriguing specimen with a specific and completely intact perforation known as a Schermack. He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I wouldn’t allow myself to believe I had made a find like that,” he recalled.
After all, he was a regular guy. And stuff like this doesn’t happen to regular guys, does it?
So he put the stamp away.
How rare could it be?
Do you recall the upside down airplane stamp? Although the “Jenny” stamps have fetched nearly $1 million at auction, there are 100 known in the philatelic world. By comparison, just 40 of the 1920 482A, 2-cent deep rose stamps are known to exist.
After a second examination, Moreau, regular guy, was sure in his heart and mind that he possessed one. He followed proper protocol, packaged the prized specimen and sent it to the Philatelic Foundation for authentication.
Soon, he received a letter essentially informing him the stamp wasn’t worth much more than the paper it was printed on. How had he been so wrong? Could the experts be wrong and Denny Moreau right?
He persevered, asking for an appeal. Hey, it was only postage. The foundation still had his stamp. It also had the final say on whether it was genuine.
One year after Moreau got around to opening that Andes Candies box, he received another registered letter from the foundation. Its new opinion: The stamp was genuine.
“I just jumped to my feet,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe it. I was running around the house screaming, saying, ‘I can’t believe it,’ for two hours. Suddenly, I’m vindicated. Olga was crying. It wasn’t the money. It was the fact that I had known I was right. And I was vindicated.”
Siegel Auction Galleries of New York noted with relative breathlessness: “EXTREMELY FINE. EASILY ONE OF THE FINEST OF THE 40 RECORDED EXAMPLES OF THIS MAJOR 20TH CENTURY RARITY. FROM A NEW DISCOVERY AND OFFERED FOR THE MARKET FOR THE FIRST TIME.”
At auction, the stamp’s opening price was $55,000. It sold for $95,000 and is considered one of the rarest finds of the 20th and now 21st centuries.
And it happened all because a regular Vegas guy stuck to his guns.
Knowing that, I expect DeNiro to call Denny any day.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith/.