Like any collectible, the philatelic world has its champions – the rarest, the highest price paid at auction. Some of these have long and interesting histories apart from the price paid.
1840 One Penny Black
The first issued stamp, One Penny Blacks are not extraordinarily rare. Yet one sold over 15 years ago at auction for over $2.4 million.
1847 Post Office Mauritius
Issued on the authorization of the Governor of a British colony in the Indian Ocean, the Mauritius is both rare and – like many valuable stamps – flawed. The designer incorrectly printed the words ‘Post Office’ rather than ‘Post Paid’ on the stamps, of which around 200 were produced. Only a few dozen remain and a cover with two stamps affixed sold at auction for $3.8 million over ten years ago.
1851 Hawaiian Missionaries
Hawaii issued its first stamps long before gaining statehood. Used as postage by missionaries, the 2-cent variety has become so rare that only 16 instances are known to exist. If you find one, you can expect to sell it for anywhere from $200,000 to about $800,000 depending on its condition. But the 5-cent and 13-cent issued around the same period can bring a pretty penny, as well.
1855 Tre Skilling Banco Yellow
One of the most famous of all stamps, this Swedish issue was printed in error. Tre (or ‘three’) skilling stamps in Sweden were printed on green colored paper, while yellow was reserved for the eight skilling issue.
One Tre Skilling Yellow sample was found in 1885 by a young Swedish lad, 14-year old Georg Backman, in his grandfather’s collection. Through the years this stamp has sold at various auctions with the latest one fetching over $2.24 million ten years ago.
There are no other samples known, making it the rarest stamp known to exist.
1856 British Guiana One Cent Black on Magenta
Long the superstar of the stamp world, the 1 cent British Guiana is among the rarest stamps on the planet. Produced in this remote colony, the issue is a rectangle with clipped corners. Individually hand-initialed by a post-office employee, one sold at auction over 25 years ago for $935,000.
Benjamin Franklin would be delighted were he to discover the price paid for an 1867 Z-Grill. Z-Grills are imprinted with a rectangular pattern that depicts the face of the author of Poor Richard’s Almanac. The pattern was an anti-cheating device, but used only for a short time. Only two are known to exist and one sold for $938,000 at auction nearly 20 years ago.
The Latin saying ‘De Gustibus Non Disputandum’ (‘There’s no disputing taste’) is nowhere more true than in stamp collecting. Many would regard these examples as little more than interesting curios of paper and ink. But to the philatelist with a passion for history, detective work and the joy of collecting they are priceless. Or, nearly so.