Great collections... Revealing the stamp collection of Maurice Burrus

Tobacco magnate and stamp collector Maurice Burrus was born in Alsace in 1882, and from a young age he was a devoted philatelist.  His love of the stamp was partly fuelled by accessibility - his family kept hoards of old correspondence in their attic, allowing him to indulge his passion fully.

Burrus was generally fascinated by both the small and the historic.  He reportedly had an interest in miniature books, and helped support archeological digs in the Provence region.  As such, stamp collecting allowed him to combine both of those aspects.

Burrus was clear in his beliefs about the purpose of a philatelist:

"To reassemble the whole of the stamps issued in one country, in a certain part of the world, or if possible, of the whole universe, and not to estimate the value of stamps according to their beauty of engraving or design"

Driven by this aim, Burrus collected a huge amount rare stamps in fine condition, as well as ones that had "done duty" - used stamps. 

His collection contained some of the most rare and expensive stamps that have ever existed.  It included an 1886 Dominican 6 pence Queen Victoria stamp with a 'one penny' overprint, made in error.  The stamp, from a single sheet of 60, is incredibly scarce.  Burrus also owned five ultra-rare 1847 Mauritius 'Post Office' stamps - one of the most sought after items in the philatelic world.


Postmaster's Provisional from New Carlisle
'Please Mr. Postman' - the rare Burrus Postmaster's Provisional

The British North America section of the Burrus collection was considered one of the largest and most valuable of its kind ever formed by a single philatelist.  It included a number of rare Canada, British Columbia, Vancouver Island and Newfoundland stamps.  A highlight was a pair of 6d Canadian postage stamps which sold for $26,400 - three times their estimate.

The collection also contained one of only three unused 1853-1860 Empire 20c blue "tête-bêche" stamps sets.  Burrus acquired a block of 30 of the unique stamps, where conjoined pairs are printed with one stamp inverted relative to the other.

Another rarity was an 1851 New Carlisle Postmaster's Provisional on an envelope, which remained in Burrus' collection for 40 years.  It was sold for €280,000 in 2010.  Burrus had an extensive Hawaiian collection, including a 2 cent Hawaiian 'Missionary' stamp - one of only 15 made.  In 1921, Burrus sold his for $15,000; it now has an estimate value of £450,000.

The industrialist died in 1959 and such was his stature in the philatelic world that in 1968, he was one of five stamp collectors portrayed on a set of commemorative stamps issued by Liechtenstein.  His collection was remarkable and probably as close to a 'universal' set as anyone is ever likely to see.


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