Our Top Five Rare Stamp Sales of 2011 so far...
From India, America, China and the British Empire, this is turning out to be a huge year for stamps
Without a doubt it's proving to be another great year for the rare stamp business.
You might have wondered whether it was possible for the trade to sustain itself after the highlights of last year, which included some great Russian rarities from the Alexander collection and record-breaking pieces from both Imperial and Communist China.
That's not even mentioning the small matter of the Treskilling Yellow being offered again for the first time in a long time.
But this year hasn't been short of eye-popping sales either. Here are just a few of our favourites:
On May 19, Geneva auction house David Feldman auctioned a 1948 10 Rupee Mahatma Gandhi stamp of India for the incredible price of €144,000 ($205,000).
This would have been a world record had it happened a few months earlier, as it is much more than the price paid for the prized example of the 4 Annas 'Inverted Head' error, which sold at Spink in October 2010 for £105,390 ($170,500) - which at that time was a world record for an Indian stamp.
As it happened, another stamp had since sold at Christoph Gartner for marginally more. Nevertheless the sale served as a bright reminder that philately in India is going from strength to strength.
America's favourite stamp
It's not the rarest stamp in the USA, but even with 90-odd examples out there in both singles and blocks the Inverted Jenny - a 24c 1918 stamp in which the central image of an aeroplane has been inverted - is greatly sought after.
The one put up for sale at Siegel on June 18 was no exception achieving $350,000.
The Black Empress
The Canadian 1851 12d Black is one of the most coveted stamps of British North America, and any example is highly valuable.
However, the one offered at Spink Shreves on January 27 was always going to have an impact as it is in freakishly good condition. Indeed the company's president Charles Shreve commented:
"I've been in the business my whole life, four decades and I've never seen a stamp of that rarity or that age, a classic stamp, in that perfect a condition."
Dubbed 'The Black Empress', it did not disappoint at auction and an enchanted collector took it home for $425,000.
The eye-sparkling Chartwell collection
It's difficult to imagine that many stamp collectors missed coverage of the Chartwell collection's sale. Spink described the collection of British Empire stamps, of which we may never see the like again, as leaving them with 'sparkles in their eyes'.
As you may have read in our coverage, there were some spectacular sales of individual items in the first auction of the collection at the end of June.
This included two major world record prices: a $229,700 final price for an 1867 one shilling, black and rose carmine stamp from the Virgin Islands with the Virgin Mary herself missing, and what has been described as the 'Finest and Most Attractive One Penny Black on Cover in Existence' which brought £348,000 ($556,045).
A particularly well-preserved example of the Mauritius 'Post Office' 2d blue also sold for £1.08m ($1.7m)after a frantic bidding war against a £400,000-500,000 listing.
It made Japan see red
Finally, Interasia's sale of Chinese stamps back in February repeated its forerunners' success in breaking world records.
The 3,000-lot sale produced a record total realisation of HK$98,718,461 (US$12,674,089) against the pre-sale estimate of HK$50m (US$6.45m).
Highlighting the sale, the unique 1968 Mao's Inscription to Japanese Worker Friends corner block of four from the Cultural Revolution era brought a staggering HK$8,970,000 (US$1,151,630), setting a new world record for a Chinese stamp lot at auction (as we had speculated it might beforehand).
The great rarity was never issued because of objections from the Japanese government about its potential to incite the Japanese population. It is understood to be the largest existing multiple and probably the only surviving block of four of the stamp.
Can anything beat that before the end of 2011? Watch this space to find out.
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By Paul Fraser