The Collections of Hiroyuki Kanai

Hiroyuki Kanai could claim more than almost anyone else to have spent his whole life collecting stamps. He was born in 1925 in Osaka, the son of a wealthy businessman, and was already collecting stamps when 5 years old. He founded not one but two philatelic societies at university.

Although he already had a substantial collection by the time he reached this age, Kanai's most interesting collecting started when he was in his twenties and started to focus his interests, specifically on Japanese and British colonial stamps. Kanai's favourite Japanese stamp is Cherry Blossom series, 6 Sen, with the 'syllabic 1'.

Like Thomas Tapling, his headstart in business meant that almost as soon as he started work, he could branch out into serious collecting early. But unlike Tapling, who sadly died long before his time, he has built up three quarters of a century involved in philately.

Collecting was sometimes difficult, especially immediately after WWII when using Japanese Yen to buy stamps from other countries, but he persevered.

His most famous collection was to be of Mauritian stamps, perhaps the greatest there has been, including 6 of the 27 examples known to exist of the famous Mauritius 'Post Office' stamps.

Mauritian 'Post Office' stamps are prized by collectors for several reasons, notably that some were the first to be issued within the British Empire outside Britain itself. The two stamps issued in 1847 were the Penny Orange and Two Penny Blue.

Post Paid Penny Orange
Click to enlarge
Mauritius Post Office Two Pence stamp
Click to enlarge


These were comparable to the British Penny Black and Two Penny Blue, all bearing the likeness of Queen Victoria in profile.

But unlike the British stamps, which were produced in great numbers, the initial run of the stamps on the tiny island were requested by the Governess, Lady Gomm, for a ball. One of these invitations is held in the British Museum.

The first run of stamps had 'Post Office' printed on the left side, whilst from then on 'Post Paid' appeared instead. A myth has grown up claiming that the designer entered the original text accidentally, but in fact the use of the text 'Post Office' on letter had a history prior to adhesive stamps.

He finally sold this collection in 1993, with the assistance of David Feldman, at a Zurich auction, saying that he wished to give other collectors the chance to own some of the stamps.

"I sold my collection of Mauritius only to satisfy the collectors who are dreaming to own one of these beautiful stamps", he explained.

The auction is legendary. A 'Post Office' Penny Orange sold for $1,072,260 and a 'Post Office' Two Penny Blue sold for the equivalent of $1,148,850. But neither these were by any means the greatest highlight of the sale.

Mauritius Post Office
Mauritius Post Office Bordeaux Cover
(Click to enlarge)


That honour must go to the world famous Bordeaux Cover - an envelope sent to Bordeaux via England which features one of each denomination. It has been dubbed la pièce de résistance de toute la philatélie. Fittingly, it brought the equivalent of $3.8m - the World Record for any philatelic item.

There were many other Mauritian stamps on offer, of course, and even the early 'Post Paid' varieties can be distinctly valuable and collectible (as we've mentioned previously).

If you see a high quality example in an auction, there's a fair chance that 'ex-Kanai' will appear in the description, in which case it is likely to be a sound investment.

Mauritius Orange Post Paid Block
Mauritius Orange Post Paid Block (£300,000 in 2007)


Kanai did not simply collect stamps, but was an acclaimed writer on the subject including his books Classic Mauritius: The Locally Printed Postage Stamps and Hosun-no-Miryoku.

He won the Lichtenstein medal (named after another famous collector of Mauritian stamps) in 1991, which is given each year to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to philatelist scholarship and literature.

Kanai has received many awards during his lifetime including a blue ribbon from the Japanese Emperor. But his personal favourite is the National Grand Prix for his Finland Collection in 1998.

In recent years he has worked as director of a vast stamp museum in Kobe, returning to his first love: Japanese stamps.


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