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Stamp Market Commentary

Commentary No. 152 - 17 February, 2012

Canada’s Rarest Early Stamps Sold at Auction
Between 2002 and 2012

We had a look at the results of the auction sales of Canada's early mint stamps, issued between 1851 and 1857, to see which were the rarest from an auction point of view. We looked for the stamps that appeared the least number of times at auction in the past 10 years. The results may surprise you.

The numbers ranged from only 1 copy sold for Scott 1, to 10 copies sold for the famous Scott 3 (12 Penny Black) to 17 copies for Scott 9. These were the some of the most valuable of Canada’s early stamps according to the catalogues, but were they the rarest? So we looked further.

What we found is that for each of the following 11 stamps sold at auction in the 10 year period between 2002 and 2012, less than 4 copies were ever presented for sale. Owners of these stamps should know that, whenever the catalogues say, they possess some extremely rare stamps. Auctioneers should know that when these stamps are offered in their sales in future, they may wish to highlight their scarcity. Buyers should know that these stamps will be hard fought over when they appear at auction because they appear so seldom.

Here are the 11 rarest early mint Canadian stamps according to our records. The catalogue values are those that were in effect at the time of sale.

Scott 1

From the British North American collection of William H. Gross. The proceeds from this sale, which grossed US$1.9 million, were donated to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. The price of $50,350 for this stamp set a new record price, up from the previous $4,500 record. We remember thinking at the time how thoughtful Bill Gross was to do this. We wrote to thank him and received a nice reply.

Spink Shreves
Lot 201
Nov 19, 2009
Catalogue $27,500
Realized $50,350

Scott 1a

Here’s what we wrote about this stamp at the time of its sale in 2009:
”It is so unusual to see mint copies of Canada's first stamp with original gum being offered for sale. This attractive copy might have attracted a better price but for the fact it came with a trifle surface soling. Importantly for so rare a stamp, it came with a Greene certification of authenticity.
How rare is a mint Scott 1 or 1a in good condition: The last time we recorded a mint copy of Scott 1 without a fault was in 1989. The last time we recorded one with full OG was in 1987 and that was also at a Maresch sale.
Then, let's look at the record for a Scott 1a. We have only recorded the sale of 2 copies before this one, one in 2004 and the other in 1998. Both had faults.
We would guess that the buyer of the above stamp was faced with a dilemma. Should he buy now or perhaps have to wait for another 10 years for another copy of Canada's first stamp to be offered. It couldn't have been an easy decision. The price paid of $16,500 was well under catalogue, but it was still the highest price paid for a single copy since 1985.”

R. Maresch & Son
Lot 237
Oct 21, 2009
Catalogue $40,000
Realized $16,500


Scott 2
The stamp also came from the British North American collection of William H. Gross. In this sale, a mint Scott 3 sold for $275,600 and a Scott 3 cover sold for $265,000.

Spink Shreves
Lot 203
Nov 19, 2009
Catalogue $32,500
Realized $68,900


Scott 4c
This and 3 other stamps below come from the Michael Roberts collection. This is one of the best collections of early Canadian stamps we have ever seen. The quality was superb. At the time of the sale, Gary Lyons used one of our favourite expressions to describe it “catalogue values are irrelevant!” The late Bill Maresch would have loved this as it was one of his favourite expressions when describing a stamp which he knew would do exceptionally well at auction.

Lot 37
Dec 1, 2006
Catalogue $1,250
Realized $4,500


Scott 4ii
This was the “orange red” variety. The regular colour is “red” only. It came on medium wove paper which is the normal paper for this issue. Although its margins were fairly narrow, it came with full original gum and was lightly hinged.

Lot 1172
March 1, 2008
Catalogue $4,000
Realized $2,800


Scott 4v
This is the “deep red” variety on thick hard paper and comes from the Michael Roberts’ collection. It had just clear to full margins and came with large part original gum.

Lot 59
Dec 1, 2006
Catalogue $3,375
Realized $2,300


Scott 5b
Here we have the “greenish gray” variety on wove paper with original gum. It is another Michael Roberts’ stamp and its provenance goes back to the Dale- Lichtenstein and Harry Hussey collections. The previous record price for this stamp was $14,410. Quite a jump!

Lot 80
Dec 1, 2006
Catalogue $12,500
Realized $42,000


Scott 5d
This is the “gray violet” variety on thick paper. This copy came from the outstanding “Sir Gawaine Baillie” collection and had part original gum. There were expertizing marks on the back.

Lot 795
May 10, 2006
Catalogue $10,000
Realized $30,800

Scott 7i
This is the fourth stamp from the Michael Roberts’ collection that is found in this survey. It came with full original gum. Its colour is “dull blue” instead of the regular “blue”. Stamps were separated with scissors in those days. As can be seen, some people were more skilled at this than others!

Lot 94
Dec 1, 2006
Catalogue $15,000
Realized $10,000


Scott 8a
This sale by Shreve’s was amazing and contained 22 new record prices for Canadian stamps. A copy of the 5¢ Small Queen with a catalogue value of $500 sold for $4,011. The pair that is shown here was printed on horizontally ribbed paper and is the only known mint pair. It had a partial original gum and also came from the Dale-Lichtenstein collection.

Shreve’s Philatelic
Lot 1620
Apr 12, 2007
Catalogue $16,500
Realized $8,022

Scott 9a
This stamp came from another of our favourite collections to appear at auction, the “Mount Royal Collection” of Canada. This is the “deep green” variety, and was very lightly hinged. This sale resulted in 23 new record prices. We can still remember the excitement as we first looked through the catalogue and saw the quality and rarity of the stamps it contained.

H. R. Harmer
Lot 40
Oct 8, 2008
Catalogue $12,500
Realized $14,000

This was a wonderful trip down memory lane. It brought us back to some of the best and most awe inspiring collections of the past 10 years. We hope you have enjoyed it as much as we have. The word “rare” is used frequently in stamp circles. We believe the 11 stamps described in this survey genuinely deserve this term.

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