World record stamp prices and an instant reaction in the sales room

In a “normal” stamp auction, lots tend to go at a rate of somewhere between 60 and 120 lots per hour. The more bids made on individual lots, the slower the rate of sale.  Following the world record bid of US $9.5million for a single stamp (the British Guiana 1c black on magenta) at Sotheby’s in New York on 17th June, the remainder of the Du Pont British Guiana collection was auctioned by David Feldman in Geneva on 29th June.

This was nothing like a “normal” auction !

A packed room of highly competitive bidders battled against phone and internet bidders from all around the world and the 131 lots took a staggering three and a half hours to complete. With such a competitive audience, the pre-sale estimates were simply blown out of the water. According to David Feldman, In 40 years as auctioneer, I have never had the experience where every single lot was underbid to an astonishing multiple of the original estimate, leaving no lot unsold!

The 131 lots – none of which are usually seen together at auction – raised more than €6million – more than six times their pre-auction estimate. Several lots were great rarities in their own right but do not usually attract such competitive bidding or high prices. The sale of the unique British Guiana 1c black on magenta obviously had a knock on effect and the under-bidders from Sotheby’s sale in New York must have been determined to add to their portfolios. It is equally likely that the winning bidder in New York wanted to keep as much of the du Pont collection intact – given that this collection was the basis of multiple top awards at top international philatelic exhibition venues during the 1980s and 1990s.

Highlights of the sale included the following :-

1850-51 2 cents black on pale rose, Townsend Type A, with initials of postal official Smith “JBS”, cut round, usual defects, central Demerara date stamp OC 7 1851, one of the only two single examples remaining in private hands (two pairs, each on cover, are also known outside institutions) (SG £250’000).  A tremendous world classic rarity, and the rarest value of the “Cotton-Reel” primitives. This 2 cents value was issued in 1851 to pay a local town letter rate (the Georgetown Penny Post), a service which was unpopular and little used. No town post usages are known to have survived. First discovered by N. R. McKinnon in 1877.  Provenance: Ferrary, Avery, King Fuad, Hunt & Berlingin (Sold by David Feldman in 1978 for CHF66’000)

British Guiana, 1850-51 2 cents black on pale rose, Townsend Type A

  • Estimate: 100’000 EUR
  • Realised: 190’000 EUR
  • Sold for almost TWICE estimate

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1856 Provisional 4 cents black on blue glazed surface-coloured, initials of postal clerk Wight “EDW”, cut octagonal, village date stamp A 8 C DE 05 1856 (SG £90’000).  A very rare stamp with less than two dozen known in total.

British Guiana, 1856 Provisional 4 cents black on blue glazed surface-coloured, cut octagonal

  • Estimate: 20’000 EUR
  • Price realised: 150’000 EUR
  • Sold for over SEVEN times estimate

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1850-51 8 cents black on blue-green, Townsend Type D, initials of postal official Lorimer “WHL”, thick frame, deep fresh colour, used on cover from Plantation Foulis (Duff correspondence, full letter enclosed) to Demerara, tied by a light strike of Demerara date stamp NO 5 1850.  Very rare on full cover.  Provenance: Small

British Guiana, 1850-51 8 cents black on blue-green, Townsend Type D, used on cover from Plantation Foulis to Demerara

  • Estimate: 15’000 EUR
  • Price realised: 130’000 EUR
  • Sold for almost NINE times estimate

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1850-51 pelure paper (very thin and transparent, almost onion-skin) 4 cents black on pale yellow, Townsend Type A, with initials of postal official Lorimer “WHL”, sheet corner margins, used on cover from Plantation Woodlands (list of cattle enclosed) to Georgetown, with central Demerara date stamp MY 09 1851.  An exceptional stamp and probably the largest margined “Cotton-Reel” in existence. On cover it is clearly one of the major items of the issue.  Provenance: Dale-Lichtenstein, Burrus

British Guiana, 1850-51 pelure paper (very thin and transparent, almost onionskin) 4 cents black on pale yellow, Townsend Type A

  • Estimate: 30’000 EUR
  • Realised: 90’000 EUR
  • Sold for THREE times estimate

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1856 Provisional 4 cents black on dark blue coloured fully through, Type 3, the famous sugar paper, initials of postal clerk Wight “EDW”, cut octagonal, Demerara date stamp AU 17(?) 1856, deep colour (SG £130’000).  A world classic rarity with only ten examples known in total (one of which is in the British Royal collection)

British Guiana, 1856 Provisional 4 cents black on dark blue coloured fully through, Type 3, cut octagonal

  • Estimate: 40’000 EUR
  • Price realised: 80’000 EUR
  • Sold for TWICE estimate

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1856 Provisional 4 cents black on magenta, initials of postal clerk Wight “EDW”, cut octagonally, very fresh and used on cover from Plantation Caledonia to London (full letter inside regarding cost of coolies), prepaying the inland letter rate “Paid 4 Cts”, posted at Wakenaam with BG W cds for FE 7 1856, stamp then cancelled in transit by Demerara date stamp FE 8 1856 (trace of tie at top of stamp), letter subsequently charged “6” for sixpence Uniform Packet rate in London (arrival 20 MR 1856 on flap),

British Guiana, 1856 Provisional 4 cents black on magenta, cut octagonally, used on cover from Plantation Caledonia to London

This is the earliest known cover of any stamp from this issue, most unusual going abroad and one of the great highlights of this collection, exhibition showpiece
Provenance: Townsend

  • Estimate: 20’000 EUR
  • Realised: 70’000 EUR
  • Sold for THREE & A HALF times more than estimate

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1850-51 8 cents black on blue-green, Townsend Type C, initials of postal clerk Wight “EDW”, thin frame, particularly fresh colour with wide margins all around, very light central date stamp of Demerara December 1851.  A very appealing example and rare (SG £11’000).  Provenance: Ferrary (Sale X, Lot 174)

British Guiana, 1850-51 8 cents black on blue-green, Townsend Type C

  • Estimate: 4’000 EUR
  • Price realised: 70’000 EUR
  • Sold for more than SEVENTEEN times estimate

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1850-51 12 cents black on pale blue, Townsend Type D, with initials of postal clerk Wight “EDW”, cut square, used on cover (Duff correspondence, full letter enclosed) from Berbice JU 2 1851 to Demerara with clearly dated Demerara cds JU 03 1851, the stamp tied by archive fold at left.  Very rare on a full cover.  Provenance: Wilson

British Guiana, 1850-51 12 cents black on pale blue, Townsend Type D, used on cover from Berbice to Demerara

  • Estimate: 5’000 EUR
  • Price realised: 75’000 EUR
  • Sold for FIFTEEN times estimate

Surprising results for the so-called “less important” lots included :-

1852 Waterlow 4 cents black on deep blue, exceptionally fresh unused with clear margins, creases with painted touch-ups (SG £17’000).  A very rare stamp in unused condition.  Provenance: Ferrary (Sale II, Lot 211)

British Guiana, 1852 Waterlow 4 cents black on deep blue

  • Estimate: 3’000 EUR
  • Price realised: 42’000 EUR
  • Sold for FOURTEEN times estimate

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1852 Waterlow 4 cent black on deep blue, from the right of the sheet, used on JA 27 1852 cover to London and tied light Demerara date stamp (“7” of “27” omitted, a further strike on flap has the “7” inserted by pen).  Probably the earliest known usage of this stamp and the only one used to a destination outside the colony, charged one shilling packet postage in London.  A rarity among classic covers.  Provenance: Townsend and Small

British Guiana, 1852 Waterlow 4 cent black on deep blue, used on cover to London

  • Estimate: 10’000 EUR
  • Price realised: 36’000 EUR
  • Sold for over THREE & A HALF times estimate

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1853 Waterlow lithographed 1 cent vermilion, very fresh horizontal strip of four, showing types 7-10, used on cover to Sophia’s Hope Estate Mahaicony (Barlow correspondence) tied by Demerara date stamp FE 29 1856.  Very rare, one of three such frankings known.  Provenance: Seybold

British Guiana, 1853 Waterlow lithographed 1 cent vermilion, horizontal strip of four, used on cover to Sophia's Hope Estate Mahaicony

  • Estimate: 5’000 EUR
  • Price realised: 46’000 EUR
  • Sold for over SEVEN times estimate

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1860-76 Ship issue 12 cents lilac perf. 12 used on 1861 cover to London, tied solely by the large accountancy hand-stamp “5d” in red, Demerara cds NO 23 61 on reverse, colourful and rare

British Guiana, 1860-76 Ship issue 12 cents lilac perf. 12 used on 1861 cover to London, tied solely by the large accountancy hand-stamp 5d in red

  • Estimate: 300 EUR
  • Price realised: 2’200 EUR
  • Sold for over SEVEN times estimate

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Officials: 1875-77 selection incl. 1875 1 cent in mint block of 12 and 8 cent in mint block of 9 (both with some creasing), plus a small mint & used selection incl. 1877 6c used, fine

British Guiana, 1875-77 official 8 cent in mint block of 9

  • Estimate: 600 EUR
  • Price realised: 10’000 EUR
  • Sold for over SIXTEEN times estimate

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1810-47 small exhibit collection of postal history, from “BERBICE” 1810 (earliest known marking of Berbice), large horseshoe of Demerara (2, one with date error), Demerara fleurons (2), Berbice 2-line date stamps (3), rare DEMERARY 2-line date stamp (illustrated in Townsend and Howe), rare Packet Rate hs “1/2”, generally fine strikes (10 items)

  • Estimate: 800 EUR
  • Price realised: 20’000 EUR
  • Sold for TWENTY-FIVE times estimate

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Many of the prices realised not only exceeded the pre-sale estimate but also exceeded the Stanley Gibbons (S.G.) catalogue value.  Will Gibbons upgrade their valuations or are the above prices caused by the recent world record price achieved for the British Guiana 1c black on magenta in New York by Sotheby’s?  Will prices for the classics continue to rise?

Will a new generation of collectors be inspired by the romance and history of these issues?

Will a new wave of speculators indulge in philatelic investments?

Time will tell.

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