The Collections of Philipp von Ferrary

Philip Ferrari de La Renotière is a legend in the history of collecting, in numismatics and especially philately.

Born to the Duke and Duchess of Gallièra, he inherited a title and a large fortune after his father's death in 1871.

Disregarding the former, and choosing to be known as Philipp von Ferrary, he continued his childhood hobby of collecting and set the fortune to assembling perhaps the greatest stamp collection of all time.

Ferrary bought up many stamp collections.

Perhaps his first major purchase was his 1880 acquisition of Judge Philbrick's substantial hoard for £8,000 which included most of the collection of Sir Daniel Cooper, the first President of the London Philatelic Society.

Aside from buying private collections wholesale, Stanley Gibbons' records state that at one point he was averaging £3,000-4,000 per year in buying from them, an enormous sum at the time.

He became known worldwide as keen to buy stamps from individual traders, creating a kind of suction effect for rare stamps in Paris where he resided, despite being Austrian.

Ferrary rarely hesitated to buy, often paying immediately in gold, and sometimes becoming the victim of fraudsters as a result, causing forged rare stamps to be nicknamed 'Ferrarities'.

Ferrary was interested in stamps from all round the world, especially in getting not just one but as many examples of a rarity as he could.

However, his interest was specifically in singles, not so much blocks or covers.

In fact - and this may make any true philatelists reading wince - when presented with an 80 cent Modena Provisional Government on a complete cover, Ferrary promptly ripped the stamp off.

Nevertheless, few stamp collectors can fail to be impressed by Ferrary's work, as many of his pieces are simply legendary: at least seven of the 1847 'Post Office' Mauritius stamps passed through his hands.

These were the first British Commonwealth stamps outside Britain itself, created for a set of party invitations, and quickly replaced by the more common 'Post Paid' variety.

Two 2 Cent Hawaiian Missionary stamp
Hawaiian Missionary


The only unused copy of the 1851 Two Cent Hawaiian Missionary came into Ferrary's collection.

These were the first stamps used, in limited numbers, on the Pacific island, and mostly used by missionaries, hence the nickname.

The Penny Magenta of British Guiana also took its place in Ferrary's collection. Created as a temporary measure in the then British colony in 1856 after a shipment of stamps failed to arrive, the pink octagonal stamp was most recently bought for just under a $1m in 1980 and is thought to be the only one of its kind remaining in the world.

Treskilling Yellow
Treskilling Yellow


Last but not by any means least, Ferrary acquired the 1855 Treskilling Yellow.

A three skilling stamp from Sweden printed in yellow rather than the usual turquoise, apparently due to a confusion with the printing process for the eight skilling stamp which was supposed to be that colour.

Only one has ever been proved to exist. It is now listed as the most valuable stamp in the world - last selling for $2.3m in 1996.

These rare stamps were acquired by Ferrary in the course of his pursuit of various rarities and themes, including stamps from the Capes, Sydney views and early German states. He had a particular fondness for the 1850 three pfennige Red Saxony.

Ferrary also collected British and Commonwealth coins.

He did not do this on the same scale, but nevertheless his collection took five days to sell at Sotheby's after his death (referring to Ferrary only as 'A Nobleman' in the Catalogue). Ferrary is referred to several times in Clain-Stefanelli's classic Numismatic Bibliography.

Ferrary's stamp collection, which he had bequeathed to a museum, was confiscated by the French soon after his death in 1917, and as he was Austrian it was auctioned in the name of World War 1 reparations, selling for 30million francs.

Many great stamps in great collections are thus still referred to by the name of Ferrary. Fittingly, that includes one he did not own, but which features him: a 1968 red-brown 30rp Liechtenstein stamp.


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