'String of pearls' buyers take collecting to the next level



Sir Cyril Humphrey Cripps built up an incredible assortment of rarities during his lifetime,  known as the Chartwell Collection, and was clearly someone with an extreme passion for excellent pieces.

Now that his collection has been sold in June's amazing auction, it seems sad many of the unique lots which comprised it have been separated, and one of the greatest groupings of philatelic items has been split.

Or has it? As reported after the sale on Paul Fraser Collectibles, two of the rarest stamps in history were sold in the auction at Spink - the Mauritius 'Post Office' 2d blue and 1867 British Virgin Islands one shilling.

Not only were they both record-breakers, but they also both sold to the same private bidder. Is it possible that someone who bought the two most valuable stamps in the world would stop at that? Well, probably not.


Chartwell Mauritius Post Office
Rare and record-breaking, this is the most valuable stamp auctioned in the UK

In fact, this would suggest the opposite - that one bidder, or an extremely small number of individuals at most - are trying to gather together the most valuable philatelic pieces in the world.

This scenario - in which enthusiasts assort what has become known as a 'string of pearls collection' - is not unprecedented, but it is certainly rare. Of course, the most pertinent question is, is it good for the market as a whole?

Well, arguably yes it is. There are many indications at the moment that the collectibles field - not just in philately but spreading to art, coins and jewellery - is stronger now than it has been for a long time.

It cannot be by chance that this strengthening of the markets coincides with increasingly wealthy enthusiasts building larger collections. What it does is generate confidence, much like the way stock markets work. Simply, if one person sees a competitor spend big, they will be inclined to do the same.


Markets for art and jewellery are thriving at the moment, thanks to confident buyers

This is not to say the collectibles market depends solely on a handful of rich individuals - it is far too varied and diverse for that to happen.

All it means is that having a few wealthy people willing to spend big and assort their 'string of pearls' collections should be seen as positive, because it keeps the market lively.

Indeed, the effect of this sort of buying has been seen before, as in the late 1990s Qatar's Sheikh Saud al Thani had a profound effect on the art world. Ordered to assemble a fine collection of the world's greatest object, to help the middle eastern nation become a cultural centre, he was told to pay whatever it took.

However, some found the Sheikh's willingness to pay whatever was necessary to gain an item startling, to say the least. In 2004 he paid £95,000 ($155,800 at today's prices) for an Iranian pottery tile listed at £1,000-1,500.


This diamond and ruby encrusted Indian jade flask was boughy by Thani

Other purchases included a $9.57m Fabergé egg, a complete set of James John Audubon's Birds of America (the world's most expensive book) for $8.8m and a sensuous Roman marble statue known as the Jenkins Venus for £7.9m (nearly $13m).

Despite this clearly being something rather unusual, it did at least mean the collectibles market was prospering. It creates interest, it sparks bidding wars and generates high prices, in turn drawing in more people looking for a piece of the action.

Similarly, thanks to the Chartwell collection, philately has entered the public imagination, which will mean it reaches new audiences and prospective investors.


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