December 9th and 10th 2009 Auction of British Empire Postage Stamps & Postal History The specialised auction of British Empire stamps and postal history held at Grosvenor’s Strand salerooms on 9 & 10 December reached a remarkable total of £836,153, greatly in excess of the pre-sale estimate of £625,890. The fine used example of the rare double overprint variety discovered on the Cyprus- 1880 Halfpenny, Plate 15 (lot 536), was the star of the auction. It rose to a startling £40,647, an amount nearly 20 million times greater than its original purchase price. This previously unknown great rarity only recently received its BPA certificate of authenticity.
In the Newfoundland section of the sale, which brought to the market a collection that had been assembled more than 50 years ago, there were other items new to specialists. Perhaps most notable amongst these was the 1861 envelope (lot 412), the third example recorded bearing the 1860 6d. orange-vermilion. The fact that it was addressed to the future Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, provided additional interest. It sold for a creditable £8,96.The rare Airmail items in this collection attracted considerable interest. A large 1919 ‘Martinsyde’ cover (lot 456) achieved £13,748, despite suffering from a few faults.
Exceptional sections on the Falkland Islands, the Dependencies and Antarctica are an established tradition at Grosvenor, and the lots offered at this sale brought to the room an impressive gathering of specialist collectors. As usual prices were strong. The 1933 Centenary set of ‘SPECIMEN’ stamps (lot 641), additionally showing a second ‘SPECIMEN’ handstamp applied by the receiving postal administration, doubled its estimate to sell for £4,914. Amongst the Antarctica lots the 1911 envelope (lot 826) from the Scott Expedition addressed by the unfortunate Captain Oates to his mother did even better, more than tripling its estimate to sell for £3,826.Another area to watch could be that of Whaling Mail as determined bidders were seen to drive the prices upwards, The top realisation was the £1,195 paid for a 1931 envelope from South Shetlands (lot 772).
Proofs and varieties were well represented and the strength of interest in these was seen repeatedly. Particularly striking were the results for the section of Gambia which included many examples of the ‘split A’ and ‘dented frame’. The 1904-06 71/2d. showing ‘dented frame’ (lot 866, catalogued by Stanley Gibbons at £275) realised £932. It was one of a number of items that left their catalogue values far behind.
Amongst countries featured on the second day were Montserrat and Leeward Islands.- Most of the lots came from a highly regarded ‘old-time’ source. High premiums can often be expected for multiples of older stamps, as demonstrated by the £622 paid for the mint block of four of the Montserrat 1880 4d. blue (lot 1211, catalogue value £600). The presence of a plate number is an enhancement, as shown by the plate block of four of the 1904-08 5s. (lot 1247, catalogue value £520) which sold for £679. Further notable prices on the second day were the £6,084 paid for a mint example of the Northern Rhodesia 1938-52 11/2d. carmine-red with ‘Tick Bird’ flaw (lot 1397, catalogue value £6,000) and the £5,021 for the only known example of the Togo 1916 2s. with watermark sideways (lot 1640, catalogue value £2,250).