'Unknown' Columbian Blue Error plate block sells in US stamp auction

It was previously not known to exist, and has surfaced 117 years after it originally was bought at an Ohio post office... A block of 16 stamps of the rare four-cent "Columbian Blue Error" (Scott 233a) issued in 1893 has reportedly been sold in a private US auction.

The stamps were mistakenly printed in the wrong colour ink, and this new discovery is a world class rarity: the largest multiple known of these stamps and the only plate block ever found.

The block was sold to a major collector at a January 2011 private auction, according to one of the participants who wants to remain anonymous. It contains a total of 16 stamps printed in dark blue rather than the normal bright ultramarine colour that was used for the four-cent denomination of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition commemorative issue.

It is believed the error was caused when the printers mistakenly used a batch of ink intended for the one-cent stamp of the same Columbian issue. After the Columbian Issue the printing of United States stamps was taken over by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

The Columbian Blue Error was discovered in September 1893 by John V. Painter, a railroad and banking magnate who lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio. During the late 19th century, Painter was an avid stamp collector. He was also a friend and business associate of another world-renowned stamp collector and banker from Cleveland, George H Worthington.

The "Columbian Blue Error" (Scott 233a) issued in 1893 

Painter reported finding 200 of the errors. He sold some to collector friends, including Worthington. In 1901 John W. Scott, the New York stamp dealer and catalogue creator, offered single copies of the error for $10 each. It was believed that Scott acquired all of Painter's supply.

Prior to the appearance of the plate block of 16, the only known examples of the "Columbian Blue Error" with the plate imprint and number were two strips of four from the bottoms of two different sheets. Plate blocks are highly prized by stamp collectors, and this discovery is the only known complete plate block. 

A few cancelled examples of singles are also known, indicating that some of the error stamps actually were used on mail.

Philatelists carefully record every known example of rare error stamps. For example, each of the 100 U.S. 24-cent "Inverted Jenny" errors (Scott C3a) has been accounted for and tracked through sales. The appearance of a previously unknown plate block of the rare Columbian Blue Error so many years after issue is an extraordinary event in philately.

The block was sold in a private auction held in January, and the buyer was Arthur K. M. Woo M.D. of Hong Kong, who is renowned in philatelic circles for his worldwide exhibits of rare stamps and covers.

The price paid for the Columbian Blue Error plate block of sixteen was not disclosed. 

A mint block of four of the Columbian Blue Error realised $115,000 in a 2009 auction, and one of the two known plate number strips of four realised $195,500 in a 2008 auction.


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