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Stamp Market Commentary

Commentary No. 146 - 17 August 2011

Scott 173a – Dr. Harris H. Hopkins’ Copy

During the past year, we have noticed on several occasions the sale of stamps at auction with the initials “HHH” on the back. This Commentary deals with one of those stamps.

On January 31, 1973, J. N. Sissons, the well known auction firm in Toronto, offered for sale the United States and British North American collection of Dr. Harris H. Hopkins of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Dr. Hopkins had been a long time customer and, following his death, his executors chose Sissons to sell his collection. Dr. Hopkins did an unusual thing with many of the rare stamps in this collection. He used a rubber stamp to place the initials “HHH” on the back of the stamp.


The sale of Dr. Hopkins collections was the first auction we had ever witnessed in person. We sat in the back of the crowd in the room where the auction took place at the King Edward hotel in Toronto and watched the bidding. We had submitted 25 bids and were successful in 7 of them. As we were later to learn, this was a pretty good success rate.

In this Commentary, we followed the track of one of those “HHH” stamps. This isn't difficult as Dr. Hopkins’ initials are always mentioned when the stamps are sold. The stamps in this case were part of an imperforate block of 4 of Scott 173a which was NH. Here is the block as originally shown in the Sissons’ catalogue in 1973:

J. N. Sissons
Jan 31, 1973

Lot 430
Catalogue $1,000
Realized $725

Our next record of the stamps is 31 years later when the block had been cut into two pairs. Both had the “HHH” initials on the back and were NH. They were offered in two successive auctions, with the bottom pair first and the top second. It is surprising that the top pair with the sheet margin sold for less:

Vance Auctions
Aug 18, 2004

Lot 4772
Catalogue $2,000
Realized $1,975

Vance Auctions
Oct 6, 2004

Lot 4597
Catalogue $2,000
Realized $890

More recently, there was a sale of the bottom pair:

Vance Auctions
Jun 22, 2011

Lot 5706
Catalogue $2,400
Realized $2,070

What strikes us about this history is the benefit to collectors of bidding for stamps on a regular basis over a long period of time. Clearly the purchase of a Scott 173a imperforate pair in 2004 for only $890, was a real coup. The spread in prices at all these sales is not unusual. If a collector is patient and determined, he or she can successfully acquire rare stamps at a reasonable price by bidding on a regular basis.

We are indebted to Dr. Hopkins for his habit of stamping “HHH” on his stamps. Some day the stamps may even sell at a premium when compared to a stamp without his initials. This would honour him and his taste in only wanting to acquire the best and letting the world know about it. Of course, we would not want this to start a trend!

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