An Orient Express of postal rarities

The most romantic rail journey in the world is now a little harder for us Brits.

The London leg of the Orient Express has been axed because of new border routines. 

It's all biometrics now. Gone are the days when a customs official walked down train corridors hand stamping passports while steam billowed outside.  

To commemorate the occasion I'd like to invite you to board for the train's classic Simplon route. 

Agatha Christie's novel Murder on the Orient Express conjured a murder mystery for detective Hercule Poirot on this ride from Istanbul in Turkey, through Bulgaria, Serbia, Italy, Switzerland, France and then on to London.

These stamps are highlights of the postal history of the route.

Some you can buy right now from our collections. 

Now, sit back and enjoy the view as we travel the world's most famous tracks. 

Departing Istanbul

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The Tughra Issue of 1863

These are the first printed, adhesive postage stamps from Turkey, issued under the Ottoman Empire rule of Sultan Abdulaziz.

A Tughra is the Ottoman Sultan's official mark - a ceremonial signature composed from a set of complex aesthetic rules. 

1863 was a big year for the Empire. 

In Istanbul you could call in at the Ottoman General Exposition, a grand show of industry and innovation on the model of the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.

But with just 63 post offices across territory that stretched into the Middle East and North Africa there was a lot of ground for modernisers to make up on the industrialised nations of Western Europe and North America. 

These stamps were considered so low quality that the postal authorities quickly ditched them and ordered stamps printed in Paris. 

They're valued now though, and an 1863 20pa block of 6 achieved over $70,000 at auction in 2010. 

First stop Sofia

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An 1882 5s rose colour error. 

This lovely little stamp achieved $1,700 at auction in 2016. 

Bulgaria was governed from Istanbul until 1878. 

A successful revolt against Ottoman rule opened a period of semi-autonomy that was officially confirmed by the country's declaration of independence in October 1908. 

The legal fiction of continuing Ottoman rule didn't prevent Bulgarians from running their own affairs and the first Bulgarian stamps came out in 1879. 

That issue is represented here by an 1882 printing of the 5-stotinki stamp in the wrong colour. 

A single sheet of 100 stamps went through the press with the wrong ink, making this a sought-after error. If you see one, grab it.

Next stop Belgrade

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Serbia 3-dinar olive yellow King Peter I Karageorge stamp of 1914.

If King Peter looks like he lived a life worthy of commemorating on a stamp it's because he did. 

His father was deposed then assassinated so Peter fled to Paris where he joined the French Foreign Legion to fight in the Franco Prussian War.

When he returned to the Balkans it was to battle the Ottoman Empire as a guerrilla. 

Restored to the throne by a 1903 coup his reign was dominated by the Balkan Wars that exploded into World War I. 

This stamp will cost you hundreds rather than thousands of pounds but it is a Serbian rarity. 

It's an excellent quality image on heavy paper. 

The 1914 date is key. The carnage of World War I, in which Serbia was a focus of bloody, prolonged fighting, meant few of these stamps were produced, and even fewer posted - used values are higher according to some catalogues. 

On through Italy

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Italy 1862 letter registered from Milan to London

The Orient Express takes you through Venice and Milan on its way to the Swiss border. 

This superb and exceedingly rare letter made at least part of that journey.

It is exhaustively documented and comes with 3 certificates of authenticity, including a 2016 Royal Philatelic Society assessment. 

The letter holds 8 adhesive stamps on a registered cover for postage from Milan to London. Italian and London Foreign Branch cancellations add more interest. 

This is a remnant of a turbulent time. Victor Emmanuel II was proclaimed King of a newly unified Italy in 1861, though his capital, Rome, was held by the Pope, and Austria ruled in Venice. 

These stamps - 7 1855-63 imperforate 40c carmine from Sardinia, and the first Italian issue of 1862 20c indigo - straddle the line between a peninsular of independent kingdoms and the unified modern state. 

That state's borders weren't finalised until 1870, when Rome was captured in the Third War of Independence.  Buy this Italian 1862 letter now

Through the Alps to Switzerland

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Basel Dove, 2 1/2 rapen, 1845

Swiss postal history is rich and deep and the country's stamps are a fine hunting ground for collectors and investors alike. 

The Basel Dove of 1845 is the world's first three-colour printed stamp. 

Isn't it lovely? 

And as valuable as you're imagining: a pair were sold for $109,878 by Rapp auctions in November 2014.

That would shock the citizens of Basel - in 1845 a semi-independent Canton - who disliked the design so much that it was withdrawn after just 41,480 were printed. 

The mix of embossing and print is also pioneering, and philatelists believe it to be the world's first bird stamp, a popular thematic specialism. 

Next stop Paris

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1849 Ceres tete-beche pair.

That inverted head will immediately pique the interest of any collector. 

And you're right. This inversion is an error, of which only 4 copies are believed to exist. 

This beautifully preserved pair realised $190,000 at a Robert A Siegel sale in 2011. 

The goddess Ceres is an icon of French philately, appearing as the personification of the Republic on the first set of stamps ever issued in the country.  

This fine pair is from that series. 

The same Ceres print was used again as an emergency measure when German armies besieged Paris in 1870. 

She recurs regularly through French postal history and in French philatelic communities. 

Terminating in London

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Great Britain 1970 10p-£1 Decimal Machin Definitives. SG 829/31bvar

Here is a fine set of definitives to welcome you to the UK. 

They mark a historic transformation in British life: the introduction of decimal currency. 

The "Machin Head" is familiar to pretty much everyone who grew up in Britain in the late 20th century. 

Arnold Machin's design was used on standard stamps from 1967 until the final issue of Queen Elizabeth II's long reign, in 2022. 

It's beautifully simple.

And has rarely been seen in better fettle than in this unmounted set with original gum, rated "superb". Including the withdrawn £1, this set is taken from the bottom margin of a sheet; is the first print from a finished plate (imprimaturs); and has no perforations.

They are museum pieces with the British Postal Museum and Archives handstamp to prove it. 

Own the Decimal Machin Definitives yourself now

We hope you enjoyed your trip. 

And have some souvenirs worthy of this historic jaunt. 

Adding new themes to your stamp collection is always a fascinating and worthwhile exercise. 

What new dimensions would you add to yours? 

Let us know the specialities, themes and subjects that spark your interest. 

What inspires you inspires us. 

Call now on +44 (0)117 933 9500, reply to this mail or send to to let us know.

The same contact details secure the stamps we're selling - if you get there first.

There's a lifetime guarantee of authenticity on top of any other certification when you buy from us. 

We deliver for free. Fully insured. 

And you have a 28-day period to change your mind and get your money back - no questions asked. 

 Until next time,


Paul Fraser Collectibles

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