'Crown jewel' of Hong Kong stamp collections could bring $1.5m at Spink

Following on swiftly from their Winter Series sale in which they sold some fantastic philatelic rarities of the British Empire, (a classic error and extraordinary historic cover from India and one of the great rarities of British North America) Spink has announced the sale of what they are calling "Hong Kong's most important philatelic item": the 96c olive-bistre block of four.

The 96c olive-bistre block of four has already seen a great deal of interest from around the world as word spreads of such a great rarity coming up for auction. Its estimate has been set at HK$8,000,000-12,000,000 (up to US$1.54m).

The unique block of four is part of a five auction series, featuring stamps, coins, banknotes, bonds and shares from China and Hong Kong, taking place over the weekend at the Landmark Oriental in Central Hong Kong.

The first stamps of Hong Kong were issued in 1862 in seven values from 2c to 96c brownish grey and there were two printings of the 96c totalling 138 sheets (240 stamps to each sheet). In 1863 the printers, De la Rue, introduced new paper with the watermark Crown over CC (Crown Colony) as well as some additional values.

Some of the original supplies did not need replenishing for some time and the next requisition for 96c was made in March 1864. This supply of only 52 sheets was in an unexpected olive-bistre colour.

There were no reasons for this change of colour and it is believed that this was a simple mistake made by De la Rue as bistre was among the original range of colour trials supplied in 1862. By the time the mistake was spotted in Hong Kong, it was too late to expect a fresh supply to arrive in time.

The 96c olive-bistre had a very short life. It was issued at the Post Office around January or February 1865. A new printing, in the correct brownish grey shade, was made at the same time and these supplies of these were available in Hong Kong around late July or August 1865.

Only about forty unused examples are reported to exist today, including this unique block of four. This makes it a very strong investment.

The block has graced some of the most important collections of Hong Kong including George Burghard of New York, Ryohei Ishikawa of Tokyo and Richard C.K. Chan of Hong Kong. This block has been the "crown jewel in all of these collections" according to Spink, enabling each collector to be the king of Hong Kong philately.

96c Hong Kong olive-bistre stamp block
96c Hong Kong olive-bistre stamp block
(Click to enlarge)

The 96c olive-bistre block of four's rarity has often been compared with the 'Small Dollar' of China because of the similarity in the number of unused stamps and the existence of only one block of four for each issue.

If the "Small Dollar" of China block of four is considered to be the greatest treasure of Chinese philately, the 96c olive-bistre block of four is undoubtedly the greatest treasure of Hong Kong philately.

This rarity has only been seen at auction twice in its lifetime, making this a once and a lifetime opportunity for collectors to own this true philatelic gem.

These five auctions will feature some of the greatest rarities available for Chinese and Hong Kong collectables. This great rarity will come up for sale at Spink's Hong Kong Auction on the 23rd January 2011.

Collectors and investors interested in stamps from the region may wish to take a look at these two rarities: an 1885 Chinese olive-yellow strip and this 1888 Taiwanese block of Horse and Dragons.


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