A special Chinese 19th century stamp will be the star of a philatelic auction in Hong Kong, last this month.

The 1867 Three Cents Red Revenue stamp is valued at $258,000.

More than 1,500 lots of rare and fine Chinese and other Asian stamps with an estimated value of over $1.55m will go under the hammer at Zurich Asia's 'Stamps and Postal History' autumn auction September 18-19.

"There is a continued strong interest and demand in the Hong Kong and Asian market for rare stamps," said Louis Mangin, director of Zurich Asia, in a statement.

"The sale promises to provide a unique opportunity for Asian collectors to acquire some of the rarest stamps with excellent provenance ever to appear at auction."

The 1867 Three Cents Red Revenue stamp is one of 32 recorded copies - out of the original 50 - on which the value was changed to one dollar using small Chinese characters.

It is expected to set a world record for a single Chinese stamp in the auction, Zurich Asia said.

Also appearing will be a collection of stamps printed, but never issued by a former president of China who decided to crown himself Emperor in 1916.

As a result, the monarchy was annulled during the same year due to strong opposition.

Overall, the auction will feature are range of stamps and covers of Hong Kong, Macao, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and Tibet.

There are an estimated 18m stamp collectors in China alone

Philately is one of a number of collectibles areas where Chinese and Asian markets are rapidly growing.

Beginning in 2000, the Chinese government reportedly made it an official policy to foster stamp collecting in youngsters - mainly as a way to foster interest in national history.

Elementary and high school teachers were encouraged to organise clubs.

Today, the country is believed to have almost 50,000 philatelic associations, and universities in Fujian and Jiangxi offer elective courses in stamp collecting.

The sheer size of the Chinese population is key to its large - and growing - representation in the global philatelic community.

One in three philatelists are thought to be from China - which is plausible considering that China's 1.3bn people made up 20% of the total world's population as of July 2008.

This high number may also be due to the fact that statistics are gleaned from membership figures.

Chinese stamp collectors are perhaps more likely to join a philatelic association as there is no social stigma, unlike among European or US collectors who often keep their hobby behind closed doors.

China's stamp market is primarily local: Like other philatelists, Chinese collectors typically start out by stockpiling stamps from their own region and then develop pet interests in particular foreign countries or time periods.

Early stamps from the first stamp-issuing countries, including Great Britain and Switzerland, are thought to be popular in China's collecting circles.

Meanwhile, next month's 1867 Three Cents Red Revenue auction is guaranteed to put Chinese stamps on the map.

As the People's Republic's new favourite pastime continues to grow and thrive along with its economy, China is on the right track to becoming a focal point for global philatelists over the coming years.

With such a weight of numbers entering the hobby now could be the time to consider building a portfolio of rare stamps... before prices rise.

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