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The Queen and her philatelic assets

The Queen has been on postage stamps since 50 years and going strong. Her reign on England and Postage Stamps is quite remarkable. This linkage further entwines into her own personal wealth, so as to speak of.

As of 2015, she is worth £300million but is “asset rich and cash poor”, claims the most comprehensive analysis of her wealth in decades.

Some of her most valuable possessions are kept under wraps, or rather protective sheets.

She inherited the Royal Philatelic Collection, the world’s most comprehensive collection of postage stamps of Britain and the Commonwealth, from her father, George VI.

Many of the most prized pieces were assembled by his father, George V.

With just one set of penny blacks valued at £4million, the Queen’s total collection must be worth £10million although some estimates put the figure at £100million.

The Queen also owns a valuable art collection worth many millions.

Spanish stamp fraud

On May 9, 2006, Spanish police raided 21 homes and offices of Afinsa Fienes Tangibles SA, the world’s largest postage-stamp dealer, and rival firm, Forum Filatélico. They charged eleven men with running a $6.4 billion pyramid scheme that took in some 343,000 investors – 1 percent of Spain’s entire population, making the fraud one of the largest in Spanish history.

An economy either is in trouble or has lost its sense of balance when investors shy away from tangible capital formation in favor of buying postage stamps and similar collectibles. Unlike machinery and technology, stamps do not produce real goods and services. They have long since been printed and sold by the government, and will never be used actually to mail letters. However, stamps have shown themselves to be a great vehicle to attract savers who think that buying them can produce an exponential earnings growth – or more technically, “capital” gains, if we can stretch economic terminology far enough to call a stamp collection “capital.”

If value resulted merely from scarcity, then postage stamps, coins and master paintings all would seem to increase almost automatically over time, just like most land does. But these trophies of wealth do not promote rising production, consumption or living standards. As stamps do not earn money by employing labor to produce goods and services, their price gains are neither profit nor capital gains as classically understood. They are what economists call a windfall.

The Spanish postage-stamp scheme seems to have taken off in 2003, the year in which Spain’s free-market conservative government deregulated public insurance and oversight for non-financial investment funds. Afinsa Group bought two-thirds control of the New Jersey stamp and coin auction house Greg Manning and merged it with the Spanish auctioneer Auctentia to create Escala as the world’s third largest auction house (after Sotheby’s and Christie’s). Escala moved its operations to New York City and listed its stock on the Nasdaq over-the-counter market. Despite the stock market’s lethargic trend, the company’s earnings showed such rapid growth that in just three years its share price soared from under $5 to $35, tripling in 2005 alone.

Afinsa’s purchases accounted for 70 percent of Escala’s profits, thanks largely to the fact that as its Spanish parent’s sole supplier, Escala marked up its stamps by a reported 1,150 percent, out of all proportion to the usual 25 percent. Afinsa thus was carrying stamps for which it paid 58 million euros on its books at €723 million, over ten times their catalog values – which are fictitiously high in any case, being published mainly for the benefit of stamp dealers to give their customers the idea that they are getting a good buy. But as Forum Filatélico’s chairman, Francisco Briones, explained to a reporter from London’s Financial Times: “It was ‘normal’ to charge clients such inflated prices because of the services provided . . . including the custody and conservation of stamps.”

Afinsa paid its stamp investors an annual rate of 6 to 10 percent interest, beating most competing yields as the global financial bubble was pushing interest rates steadily downward. (Spanish government bonds paid only 3.5 percent.) To build up trust, Afinsa gave its clients post-dated checks for the gains that were promised. It also promised to buy back the stamps it sold, at the original price. This gave an appearance of liquidity to the normally illiquid market in stamps, fine arts and other collectibles, where 25 percent commissions to auction houses are normal. These ploys convinced the majority to simply re-invest the money to buy yet more stamps, which the company held in its offices ostensibly for safekeeping and preservation.

Money poured in, giving stock-market investors in Escala much higher returns than the stamp-buying customers nominally were receiving. As one news report remarked, why buy stamps and coins when you can invest in companies dealing in them? But within a week of the arrests, Escala’s stock plunged below $4 a share.

The denouement came shortly after Lloyd’s of London withdrew from a €1.2 billion policy to insure Afinsa’s stamps. One of its experts noticed that if $6 billion really had been invested, it would have bought up all the investment-grade stamps in the world many times over. The fact that stamp prices did not reflect any such extraordinary buying implied that few bona fide stamp transactions occurred at all, and there had been a massive over-billing.

Victims of Afinsa’s stamp con protest in front of the Spanish National Court in San Fernando de Henares, Spain, Nov. 19, 2015. EPA-EFE FILE/FERNANDO VILLAR

Afinsa often bought the stamps from Guijarro at 8 percent of their value listed in philately catalogs and re-sold them at a monstrous profit of up to 1,150 percent. Just between 2000-02, it spent 57.88 million euros on the stamps and sold them for 723.55 million euros.

As matters turned out, most of Afinsa’s stamps had no investment value. This explained why there were no receipts for transactions with Escala. The police found €10 million in €500 banknotes (worth about $650 each at the exchange rate of $1.30 per euro) by breaking open a newly plastered wall at the Madrid home of Afinsa’s main stamp supplier, Francisco Guijarro. What they could not find were any receipts for the stamps that he allegedly bought. And despite the remarkably high markups charged for curating the stamp collection, it was rife with phonies, as Lloyd’s had suspected. Concluding that the bills Senor Guijarro had sent to Afinsa were just a cover for a money laundering operation, the prosecutors charged the family members and officers who controlled Afinsa with embezzlement, money laundering, tax evasion, fraudulent bankruptcy, breach of trust and forgery.

After a lengthy trial that stretched for almost a decade, Afinsa’s executives were convicted by the national court in July 2016 and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison, although the Supreme Court later reduced Cano’s sentence to only eight years.

The arrests recalled memories of a more famous U.S. fraud involving postage stamps some 86 years earlier, in 1920, by Charles Ponzi – the man who bequeathed his name to history in the form of Ponzi pyramid scheme. He is reported to have arrived in Boston in 1903 with only $2.50. Not speaking much English, he took menial jobs. Fired as a waiter for shortchanging customers, he moved up to Montreal and became an assistant teller in an Italian immigrant bank. It grew rapidly by paying double the normal 3 percent rate of interest on savings accounts, but failed when its real estate loans began to go bad. The bank’s attempt to give the impression of solvency seems to have given Ponzi the idea of paying interest out of new deposit inflows rather than actual earnings.[3] As long as clients felt they were receiving interest regularly, they tended to be calm about the principal balance.

Ponzi was sent to a Canadian prison for forgery, and then was jailed in Atlanta for trying to smuggle Italian immigrants into the United States. After his release he moved back to Boston and got a job selling business catalogs. A Spanish customer sent him a postal reply coupon, which allowed its holder to buy stamps in foreign countries for return mail rather than using domestic currency to buy a stamp.

Prices for these coupons were long out of date, having been set in 1907 by the International Postal Union. World War I drastically shifted exchange rates, enabling buyers to pay a small amount in Britain – or even less in Germany with its depreciated currency – and obtain a return stamp order that was good in the United States.

The markup on these tiny postal orders was large. An American penny could buy foreign stamp orders that could be converted into six cents in U.S. stamps, for a 500 percent profit. The problem was that it would take a truckload of such postal orders to make serious money. A million-dollar investment would involve a hundred million penny coupons – which then would have to be converted into stamps and sold in competition with the U.S. Post Office, presumably at a discount, mainly in immigrant neighborhoods.

Focusing on the principle of arbitrage rather than such laborious implementation, Ponzi explained that he could make a 400 percent gain after expenses. He promised that investors could double their money in 90 days, pretending to take due account of the costs and shipping time from Europe to America. When his Securities Exchange Company paid early investors the high returns he had described, they spread the word to others. Ponzi’s inflow of funds rose from $5,000 in February 1920 to $30,000 in March, and $420,000 by May. By July an estimated $250,000 a day was flowing into his firm, mainly from small investors who let their book credits build up rather than taking out their money. Some people put their life savings into the plan, and even borrowed against their homes.

Ponzi spent most of the money on himself, buying a mansion and bringing his mother over from Italy. The financial reporter Clarence Barron (publisher of Barron’s) noted that if he really had invested the money as he told his investors he had done, Ponzi would have had to purchase 160 million postal reply coupons. Yet the post office reported that few were being bought at home or abroad, and only 27,000 were circulating in the United States.

Federal agents raided Ponzi’s offices in August, but did not find any postal reply coupons, just as Spanish police did not find investment-grade postage stamps in the scheme’s 2006 replay. Ponzi was sentenced to prison yet again, but jumped bail and tried to make some quick money selling Florida real estate. He soon was recaptured, and was deported back to Italy upon his release in 1934.

What Ponzi sold was hope, pandering to peoples’ unrealistic desire to believe that a new way to make easy gains had been discovered, with no visible upper limit as to how long gains can persist in excess of the economy’s own rate of growth. It is a measure of how much harder it is to make returns in today’s world – and hence, how little hope needs to be excited – that whereas Ponzi promised to double his investors’ money every three months, the Spanish stamp scheme paid only a 6 to 10 percent annual return. Neither fraud actually made any trading gains or profits, but simply paid investors out of new money coming in from fresh players. New inflows were treated as earnings. That’s how pyramid schemes work.

It was almost as if the Spanish operators had read one of the biographies of Ponzi that began to appear as observers noticed the common denominators between the global financial bubble of the 1990s and earlier bubbles. These bubbles provide a classic contrast between the real wealth of nations and what the business press these days calls “wealth creation” that simply takes the form of rising asset prices – “capital gains,” most of which are land-price gains.

No doubt stamp collectors would have viewed the bidding up of stamp prices as wealth creation if it actually had occurred. But all it would have achieved was to inflate the price of old stamps, much as the world’s growing ranks of billionaires were bidding up prices for master paintings and modern art, designer furniture and beachfront homes. If all the economy’s savings went into Rembrandts and Picassos, their price obviously would soar, just as putting $6 billion into postage stamps would have established higher plateau levels for stamp prices.

The flow of funds into any category of assets bid up their prices. This is true most of all for land, one of the most universal economic needs and conspicuous-consumption status measures. But does this really “create wealth”? Do market prices reflect use values, living standards and the progress of civilization?

The requisite characteristic for such price gains is indeed scarcity, but not so much that there is not enough for large numbers of buyers to make a market. If psychological utility is the key, “scarcity” has value only as a compulsive acquisitive character – wealth addiction. It means having what other people lack, with connotations of denial.

Today’s balance sheets confuse bubble wealth with real capital formation. “Investment” has become whatever accountants say they are. So have asset and debt values, given today’s leeway for financial fiction. The practice of “marking to market” permits accountants to project hypothetical gains at astronomical rates of interest, or trivializing by discounting, applying purely mathematical functions that have lost all connection to realistic rates of growth. The result is that the financial sector itself has become decoupled from the “real” economy.

The tragedy of our time is that saving today is being diverted in ways that are decoupled from real capital formation, but merely add to the economy’s debt and property overhead. To distinguish wealth from overhead, this book starts with real estate, and then reviews the stock market, advance saving for pensions and health care via a flow of funds into the stock market to create capital gains. My aim is to show how different the actual economy is from what economic textbooks teach. Economic statistics have been hijacked to the cause of special-interest pleading. All but lost from sight is the common weal.

Suppose that Ponzi actually had bought International Postal Orders, and that the Spanish stamp companies actually had invested $6 billion in rare philatelic items and coins, driving up their price to create paper gains for the investors. To whom would they sell, in order to take their gains? (This is the proverbial “greater fool” problem.) More to the point, how positive would have been the broad economic effect of such asset-price inflation?

The recent stock market and real estate bubbles are much like pyramid schemes in the sense that what is bidding up stock and property prices is an exponential inflow of new money from pension plans and mutual funds (for shares) and bank credit (for real estate). Venture capitalists are “cashing out” while corporate managers exercise their stock options.

Suppose that mortgage-packaging companies are honest in their appraisals of current price trends. The real estate bubble is nonetheless speculative and postindustrial. The analogy is found when financial managers endorse government policies that encourage the inflation of price for stocks and bonds, stamps and coins, Rembrandts and modern art by claiming that this creates wealth and hence, by definition, pulls living standards and culture onward and upward.

What is wrong with this picture? For starters, it fails to define value as distinct from price, windfall and capital gains as distinct from earned income. It also neglects the fact that market prices rise and fall, but the debts remain in place. And when debts cannot be paid, savings are wiped out.

On May 9, 2006, the price of Escala shares fell by half as news of the police raids spread. By Friday its stock was down almost 90 percent. On Monday it jumped by 50 percent, from $4.34 at Thursday’s close to $9.45 a share. Hedge funds were making and losing money hand over fist, dwarfing the gains and losses made from stamp trading. A veritable market in crime, punishment and beating the rap was in play.

What does this have to do with true capital formation? Individuals are getting rich while the economy is polarizing between creditors and debtors, property owners and rent-payers. Unproductive investment occurs when it takes the form of windfall “capital” gains, and when it involves going into debt for real estate, stocks or bonds, or “collectibles.” Unproductive credit occurs when commercial banks make loans that merely finance the purchase of property, companies or financial securities already in place.

Two centuries ago, French followers of Count Henry St. Simon outlined an industrial system that was to be based mainly on equity financing (stocks) rather than debt (bonds and bank loans). Their idea was to make industrial banking a kind of mutual fund, so that claims for payment (and hence, the value of savings) would rise and fall to reflect the economy’s earning power. The industrial banking that developed largely in Germany and central Europe differed from the short-term Anglo-American collateral-based trade credit and mortgage lending. But since World War I, global financial practices have been more extractive than productive.

The consequence has been that debts on the economy-wide level have grown more rapidly than the ability to pay. Instead of reducing this debt overhead by earning their way out of debt, economies have sought to inflate their way out of debt. However, the mode of inflation is not the familiar rise in consumer prices, much less wage inflation. Rather, it is asset-price inflation, emanating largely from the United States. Since the gold-exchange standard gave way to the paper dollar standard in 1971, the U.S. economy has become unique in being able to create credit – and foreign debt – without constraint. The result has been an unparalleled growth in debt relative to income, production and wages. This “debt pollution” has been likened to environmental pollution. It is the financial equivalent of global warming.

We have entered an era in which financial markets resemble the stamp-buying funds. Governments have replaced industrial growth with purely financial wealth creation in the form of a real estate and stock market bubble. This has turned the economic universe upside-down relative to what the classical writers expected to result from the technological progress unleashed by the Industrial Revolution and its parallel agricultural, commercial and financial revolutions. Property and credit have become costs instead of a benefit, institutional forms of rent- and interest-extracting overhead rather than helpful inputs.

1892 Murder for a stamp

The first American missionaries arrived in Hawaii around 1820. They sent letters to the United States. The Hawaiian government created its first post office in 1849, and printed its first stamps two years later. Given their use, the stamps were called “Hawaiian Missionaries”. They had a face value of 2 cents, 5 cents and 13 cents.

This stamp was at the heart of a murder mystery in France at the end of the 19th century. Gaston Leroux, namesake of the writer, lived in a very nice apartment in Paris at that time. He was a collector and had one of the famous 2-cent “Hawaiian Missionary” stamps in his collection.

In 1892, police were called to his apartment where they found him dead, murdered by an intruder it seemed. The problem was they could not find anything missing. Luckily, one of the detectives was a philatelist and upon observing that the dead man had a sizable collection, he took a closer look. He realized that Leroux had owned a Two Cent Hawaiian Missionary of 1851, a very rare and valuable stamp, and that it was missing. The motive began to take shape!

Upon investigating Mr. Leroux’s friends and associates, police came in contact with Hector Giroux who also had a collection, and in whose possession was…….a Two Cent Hawaiin Missionary stamp! Giroux broke down during questioning and confessed his crime–he had just wanted the stamp so badly. He was trialed, found guilty and hanged.

Only 15 copies of this stamp are thought to exist, and a copy of an unused 2¢ Hawaiian missionary sold in 1996 for $660,000.00! The current estimated value for this unused stamp is £450,000 and for a used version it’s £225,000.

The 10 highly valued stamps in the world

In 1967, a stamp enthusiast went to his local post office in the north England town of Rochdale to buy a pair of Great Britain stamps. He paid one shilling and nine pence (less than 10 US cents) for a pair that celebrated the invention of the television and featured a silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II.

What he didn’t realise until later was that one of the stamps was missing the queen’s head. It was a lucky purchase. In 2014, he sold the stamp, known as SG 755b, at auction for £23,600 ($36,260).

Although the advent of email has hurt postal mail service in recent years, stamp collecting remains a passionate hobby as well as a valuable business and investment strategy in many countries. Billions of stamps have been issued since the British Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive stamp, debuted in 1840, and many are laced with romance and lore — transporting collectors to exotic destinations, critical moments in history and, for some, elusive future fortunes.

Mauritius postage – two pence

In 2014, the one-cent magenta — an unassuming magenta octagon with handwritten black script released in British Guiana in 1856 — set the record for the most money ever paid for a postage stamp. The sum was $9.5m, nearly a billion times its original penny value.

Though numerous collectors have deep pockets and decades of knowledge, anyone can become a rare stamp aficionado.

And even if you aren’t as lucky as the Rochdale collector, you can quickly become knowledgeable about a range of topics and geographic locations as you build a stamp collection. Knowing what and how to buy is key.

If you think stamp collecting is just for hobbyists and not something a shrewd investor would consider, you may want to think again. Mint condition specimens have appreciated by up to 45.5% over the past 10 years, according to a recent analysis by Forbes, easily beating typical returns on real estate, gold, fine wine and the broad stock market. And the rarest philatelic treasures can sell for millions. Feast your eyes on the 30 most valuable stamps of all time.

The beauty of rare stamps and coins is their complete lack of market correlation, which is driven by the passion of high-end collectors spending money on their hobby.

During the height of the financial crisis in 2008, the GB30 index [which tracks the prices of Britain’s 30 most expensive stamps available on the open market] went up by 38% in one year.

1. British Guiana 1-cent Magenta, 1856

Value: $9,500,000 
Country: U.K.

Printed in black on magenta paper, it features a sailing ship and the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We Give and We Seek in Return). The one-cent issue was intended to be used on local newspapers. Only a single copy has been discovered to date, which is in used condition and cut into an octagonal shape.
It was sold in 2014 to shoe designer Stuart Weitzman for just under $9.5 million (£7.4m).

‘British Guiana One-Cent Magenta’ stamp dating from 1856, on June 2, 2014 in London, England.
The stamp was initially discovered in 1873 by a 12-year old Scottish boy living in British Guiana, South America who sold it to a local stamp collector for several shillings.

2. Penny Black, 1840

Value: $5,000,000 
Country: U.K.

A British cultural icon, the stamp depicted a portrait of Queen Victoria against a black background. It was the first adhesive postage stamp in the world. Only two pieces of the early issue are found today. The 1d Black is the world’s first adhesive postage stamp – as such the 1840 stamp and all of Britain’s subsequent stamps do not include the country’s name.

Rowland Hill is credited with inventing the postage stamp after issuing a pamphlet on postal reform, he described the idea as ‘…a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash’.

‘Treasury Competition’ was run in the lead up to the stamp issue, asking members of the public to design the new labels. None of the designs were deemed good enough and a portrait of Queen Victoria was used.

The authorities also issued a postal stationery lettersheet at the same time as the Penny Black. Called ‘Mulreadys’ after the artist whose illustration was used on them, the sheets were expected to be more popular than stamps, but were widely ridiculed by the public and often mocked by other illustrators. The lettersheets were withdrawn within months.

A reported 68,808,000 copies of the stamp were printed, meaning the Penny Black is not a rare stamp. However, examples in mint condition and with neat margins can command very high prices. The only known complete sheets are owned by the British Postal Museum. Penny Blacks can be highly collectible, with one set of four unused 1840 stamps available on the market for a whopping £140,000, while used versions can still sell for around £870.

With no perforations, each Penny Black stamp was cut from the sheets of 240 using scissors, meaning the margins of each stamp can vary greatly, depending on the dexterity of the postal worker.

The Penny Black went on sale on to the public on 1 May 1840, although it was not valid for use until 6 May, 1840. Despite this, some examples of the Penny Black stamp were used before 6 May; such covers are extremely rare and most desirable.

The letters in the bottom corners of the Penny Black stamp refer to the position of the stamp within the sheet of 240. The very top left stamp in the sheet would have the letters ‘AA’, moving right, the next stamp would have ‘AB’, moving down, the stamp would have ‘BB’ and so on.

The second adhesive postage stamp was the 2d Blue, which followed on 8 May, 1840.

The black ‘Maltese Cross’ cancellation used on the Penny Black stamps proved difficult to see and prompted the introduction of the 1d Penny Red stamp, which replaced the Penny Black in 1841.

The Penny Black was the world’s first postage stamp and Great Britain is the only country to not include the country name in the design. The Penny Black was included in the redesign of the 2016 British Passport.

3. The Two Penny Blue, 1841

Value: $4,000,000
Country: U.K.

Issued after the Penny Black, it depicted Queen Victoria against a blue background. The Two Penny Blue or The Two Pence Blue was the world’s second official postage stamp, produced in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and issued after the Penny Black.

Initial printing took place from 1 May 1840, and in all 6,460,000 were printed from two plates until 29 August. Officially the stamps were valid for postage from 6 May but were only available from 8 May. Except for its denomination, the design is exactly the same as the penny black and was struck from the same die.

The largest known surviving block of the Plate 1 printing of the 1840 Twopenny Blue. In mint condition, the 38-stamp block was purchased by King George V in the 1920s.

4. Benjamin Franklin, 1867

Value: $3,000,000
Country: U.S. 

The Benjamin Franklin Z Grill, or simply “Z-Grill”, is a 1-cent postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in February 1868 depicting Benjamin Franklin. While stamps of this design were the common 1-cent stamps of the 1860s, the Z-Grill is distinguished by having the so-called “Z” variety of a grill pressed into the stamp, creating tiny indentations in the paper. Although the 1-cent Z-Grill is generally cited as the rarest and most valuable of all US postage stamps, the 15-cent Lincoln Z-Grill is just as rare and the 10-cent Washington Z-Grill scarcely less so. All three of these stamps were produced at the same time, along with more common Z-grill versions of the contemporary 2-cent, 3-cent, 5-cent and 12-cent stamps.

The purpose of grilling was to permit the canceling ink to be better absorbed into the stamp paper, thus preventing reuse of stamps by washing out the cancellation marks. The use of grills was found to be impractical and they were gradually discontinued after 1870.

There are currently only two known 1-cent 1868 Z-Grills, both with cancellation marks. One is owned by the New York Public Library as part of the Benjamin Miller Collection. This leaves only a single 1-cent 1868 Z-Grill in private hands.

Late October 2005, Sundman traded his Z-Grill to financier Bill Gross for a block of four Inverted Jenny stamps worth nearly $3 million. By completing this trade Gross became the owner of the only complete collection of U.S. 19th century stamps.

Benjamin Franklin 1¢ – Blue 1,000 – Z Grill – 1867 2 copies still survive

5. The Treskilling Yellow, 1855

Value: €2.6 Million
Country: Sweden

The Treskilling Yellow is considered one of the most expensive postage stamps in the world due to the fact it should be printed in a blue-green colour with the three-skilling print, but it was actually printed in yellow. This Swedish misprinted stamp issued in 1855 is believed to be the only surviving copy to exist, which is why it is worth over €2.1 million. The stamp has been sold more than once, each time climbing with value.

Upon its release, five different stamps were issued including 3 and 8-skilling ones. The three-skilling stamp was green. The eight-skilling one was of yellow-orange color. One day, for unknown reasons, the three-skilling stamp of yellow color was issued. Experts suggest that employees forgot to change the paint and issued a sheet of yellow stamps, which were successfully sold later. Despite the fact that a whole sheet of yellow rare stamps was printed, at present, only one yellow stamp has been found. Therefore, the value of the three-skilling stamp is determined by its color.

This stamp was discovered in 1885 by a young man who saw it among old letters and papers. A year later, he sold it for 7 kronor, which was a large sum of money at that time. The person who acquired the stamp was Heinrich Lichtenstein. He could not determine the authenticity of the item so he decided to ask for expert opinion. Experts confirmed that the stamp was genuine. After that, several people owned the Treskilling Yellow. Finally, in 1894, a well-known collector bought the stamp for $3,000. Since no other Treskilling Yellow stamps were found since 1885, it became clear that this stamp was unique.

The owner of the stamp, Philippe Ferrari died in 1917, and the French government confiscated his collection. Interestingly, his collection was sold in parts despite the will he left. After the death of the stamp owner, its lifecycle became volatile. Here’s what happened to the Treskilling Yellow after Philippe Ferrari died:

• 1992 – The stamp was sold to Baron Eric Leijonhufvud. He bought it for $4,300-$5,000.

• 1923 – Claes A. Tamm acquired the stamp at a price two times greater than the previous one.

• 1928 – Johan Ramberg tracked the lifecycle of the stamp and bought it at an auction. Its price rose to $15,000.

• 1937 – King Carol II acquired the stamp in his collection. The price of the yellow stamp was doubled. The Treskilling Yellow became one of the most expensive stamps ever printed.

• 1950 – Rene Berlingen acquired the three-skilling stamp. The price is still unknown.

• 1971 – The stamp was put up for auction on behalf of the owner for $500,000. Despite the unusual story of the stamp, no one dared to buy it.

• 1974 – A scandal was brewing around the item. The Swedish Postal Museum planned to purchase the unique item for $1,000,000, but during the evaluation experts claimed that the stamp might be fake. A year later, another examination dispelled all the rumors and confirmed the authenticity of the Treskilling Yellow.

• 1978 – Edgar Mohrmann bought the unique stamp. The price was 1 million deutsche mark.

• 1984 – The Treskilling Yellow was acquired by a secret buyer from Scandinavia for almost $500,000.

• 1990 – A successful businessman buys the unique item for $1,3 million. However, the contradictions between the buyer and the seller led to the cancellation of the deal.

• 1996 – The price of the item reached a record value at all the subsequent auctions. A Swedish stamp dealer purchased it for $2,3 million, but again the buyer could not pay for the stamp.

• 1998 – A secret buyer from Copenhagen acquired the yellow stamp. The price has not been disclosed yet.

• 2010 – A group of people bought the Treskilling Yellow for $2,3 million.

• 2012 – A scandal erupted. The Andre family tried to file a lawsuit against a bank, claiming that their Treskilling Yellow stamps (which they allegedly kept there) were missing. Their claim was rejected.

• 2013 – A well-known Swedish politician has bought the unique stamp and continues keeping it in his collection.

The Treskilling Yellow
Count Gustaf Douglas, a Swedish nobleman and politician, bought the unique 1855 error of colour by private treaty in May 2013, and included it in a display to the Royal Philatelic Society London on October 31, 2013.
Douglas, the owner of the firm Securitas, is the 423rd richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

6. The Sicilian Error Of Color Stamp , 1859

Value: €2.6 Million
Country: Italy

The stamp depicting King Ferdinand II is known as the “Error of Color,” because it was mistakenly printed in blue instead of orange. The original exemplar of this stamp was yellow, but a small run of 1859 was released in a blue color for some reason. Today, philatelists know about two exemplars of this stamp existing in the world. It goes down in history as the most expensive Italian postage stamp when it was sold at Galerie Dreyfus’ international stamp auction in Basel to an anonymous US bidder for $2.6Mn in Nov 2011. 

Only two such stamps are known to exist. 

The Sicilian Error Of Color Stamp , 1859

7. The First Two Mauritius, 1847

Value:  € 2,000,000
Country: U.K.

The Mauritius “Post Office” stamps were issued by the British Colony Mauritius in September 1847, in two denominations: an orange-red one penny (1d) and a deep blue two pence (2d). Their name comes from the wording on the stamps reading “Post Office”, which was soon changed in the next issue to “Post Paid”. They are among the rarest postage stamps in the world.
With only 26 known copies known to still exist and being the first British Commonwealth Stamps to be produced outside of Great Britain, it is no wonder that the Mauritius stamps hold a value of over €1 million each.

The words “Post Office” appear in the left panel, but on the following issue in 1848, these words were replaced by “Post Paid”. A legend arose later that the words “Post Office” had been an error.

The sale of two of philately’s most prized items took place in Geneva on Dec. 1, 2016, when the famous Mauritius “Post Office” copper printing plate was hammered down by David Feldman for €1.1 million, and the famous Bombay cover franked with two rare 1-penny “Post Office” Mauritius stamps realized €2 million. The new owners, who remain anonymous, are reported to be private collectors.

Mauritius was the first British Empire territory (outside of Great Britain itself) to issue postage stamps. The tiny Indian Ocean colony was just the seventh country in the entire world to introduce stamps for the prepayment of postage, after Great Britain, Brazil, three Swiss cantons and the United States.

The issue was undertaken locally on the initiative of the governor, Sir William Gomm, who commissioned the engraving of the plate by Joseph Osmond Barnard, an Englishman who was said to have stowed away on a ship to the island in 1838. Just 500 examples were printed before the plate was retired.

Many of the stamps were used up by the governor’s wife for invitations to a ball. Just 27 are thought to have survived. The rare remaining “Post Office” covers are considered among the greatest treasures in all of philately.


The First Two Mauritius Post Office stamps,
Issued in 1847 in Mauritius during the British Colony, these stamps were modelled on the British stamps with an image of Queen Victoria.

Franked with two rare 1847 1-penny “Post Office” Mauritius stamps, the 1850 Bombay cover was auctioned Dec. 1 by David Feldman in Geneva, Switzerland, for more than $2.5 million.

The piece de resistance of the sale was the famous Bombay cover. Discovered in a street market in India in 1895, the cover bears two large-margined examples of the 1d “Post Office” stamp, tied by barred cancels on a cover addressed to Bombay.

The cover was bought by Raymond Weill in H.R. Harmer’s 1968 sale of the Dale-Lichtenstein collection for $380,000, then a world-record price for any philatelic item.

It had changed hands only privately since then, and had been exhibited at the Interphil exhibition in Philadelphia in 1976, where its contents, a letter about a shipment of scriptures to the island, were revealed for the first time. The cover has now gone to a new owner for $2,548,000. 

8. The Whole Country Is Red, 1968

Value: $2,000,000
Country: China

The Whole Country is Red is the most wanted stamp in the burgeoning Chinese philately market, which has helped to raise the price to a seven-figure sum in recent years. It is the most expensive stamp ever have sold in China, beating a record set in 2012 of 7.3 million Chinese Yuan by the sale of another Big Red stamp. 

The Whole Country is Red is a Chinese postage stamp, issued on 24 November 1968
during Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the stamp features an image of China in red , which contained a design error. The stamp featured a map of China with the words “The Whole Country is Red” , with a worker, farmer, and soldier standing below with copies of Quotations from Chairman Mao. The face value of the stamp is 8 fen.

The stamp features Communist slogans such as “Long live the total victory of the Cultural Revolution without the bourgeoisie” and “All mountains and rivers across the country are a sea of red”.

There are only nine of them remaining in circulation. It was issued by the Communist Government to celebrate the “full victory of the Great Proletarian Culture Revolution” and the establishment of 29 Revolutionary Committees across China.

Taiwan was not shaded red as at the time of printing, it was under the control of the Republic of China instead of the PRC. The official reason given for the withdrawal of the stamp was that the Spratly and Paracel Islands were missing from the map, as well as the borders with Mongolia, Bhutan, and Myanmar being incorrectly drawn. The stamp had been distributed for less than half a day when an editor at SinoMaps Press noticed the mistake and reported it to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. As a result, all Chinese post offices had to stop selling the stamp and return all copies, with only a small quantity making it to private collectors.[ The designer of the stamp, Wang Weisheng, said in an AFP interview, “For a long time I was really worried that I would be jailed”.

9. Baden 9 Kreuzer Error Stamp, 1851

Value: $1,545,000 
Country: Germany

The Baden 9 Kreuzer Error is a postage stamp error produced by the historical German state of Baden in 1851. Baden’s first postage stamps were issued on 1 May 1851. The “9 Kreuzer Green” stamp was a color misprint of the 9 Kreuzer denomination that was printed in green instead of pink. Green color was planned to use while making 6 Kreuzer stamps. The 9 Kreuzer error was not discovered until 44 years after the stamp was issued. Two letters initially were in the collection of Baron von Türckheim.

Only 4 copies of Baden 9 Kreuzer Error are known to exist. The only one of them is unused and it was auctioned on April 3, 2008 for 1,314,500 euro by David Feldman.

10. Inverted Jenny, 1918

Value: $1,350,000
Country: U.S. 

The Inverted Jenny is a 24 cent United States postage stamp first issued on May 10, 1918 in which the image of the Curtiss JN-4 airplane in the center of the design is printed upside-down; it is probably the most famous error in American philately. Only 100 copies managed to make it through printing, which is why the Inverted Jenny is valued so highly.

Initial deliveries went to post offices on Monday, May 13, 1918. Aware of the potential for inverts, a number of collectors went to their local post offices to buy the new stamps and keep an eye out for errors. Collector William T. Robey was one of those; he had written to a friend on May 10 mentioning that “it would pay to be on the lookout for inverts”. On May 14, Robey went to the post office to buy the new stamps, and as he wrote later, when the clerk brought out a sheet of inverts, “my heart stood still”. He paid for the sheet, and asked to see more, but the remainder of the sheets were normal.

In a 2016 auction in New York City, one of the stamps sold for a whopping $1.35 million. The Jenny invert is so famous in the philatelic community—and the general public as well—that the complete history of all sales have been publicly documented.

There are numerous publications and memorabilia dedicated to this historic stamp. a good reference to start with would be a published articles call the Books of the Times.

The U.S. Postal Service on September 22, 2013 issued The Inverted Jenny souvenir sheet featuring a new version of perhaps the most famous error in the history of U.S. The sheet includes six Inverted Jenny stamps, reprinted with an updated denomination and surrounded by an illustration that includes the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.; the route of the first regularly scheduled airmail service between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York; and aviation pioneer Reuben H. Fleet, who was in charge of the first group of airmail pilots. The intaglio printing plates for the new stamps were created using proofs made in 2013 from the original Inverted Jenny dies. Issued to commemorate the start of the first regular airmail service in the United States, the original Jenny stamp was designed to show a Curtiss JN-4H, or “Jenny,” the biplane used to deliver the mail.

The Inverted Jenny celebrated its 100 years milestone last year. U.S. Postal Service began the celebration of the 100th anniversary of U.S. scheduled airmail service by issuing a U.S. Airmail Anniversary stamp in Washington, D.C. The nondenominated (50¢) horizontal blue forever stamp shows a Curtiss JN-4H “Jenny” biplane similar to the first planes used by U.S. Army pilots to move the mail by air. A curved banner across the top reads “United States,” while a second banner along the bottom reads “Air Mail.” A ribbon inscribed “Est. 1918” is positioned just below the vignette, which shows the front of the Jenny biplane with its propeller turning.

1 Sheet of 6 Inverted Jenny officially issued USPS Unused Fresh Bright US Postage Stamps – 2013
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