At Christmas 1885 14-year-old Swedish schoolboy Georg Wilhelm Backman visited his grandmother and, due to his passion for stamp collecting, asked her of she had any old letters with stamps on. Several of the stamps he steamed off envelopes were the 3 (Tre) skilling banco denomination for the local letter rate. These stamps were normally green in colour but one that Georg found was yellow. He later recalled that he damaged some of the peforation when removing the stamp and later ironed it out. In Stockholm the schoolboy, who had no idea of its rarity or value, sold the stamp in a batch to the dealer Heinrich Lichtenstein for seven kronor.
Some time later Backman was reading the Swedish philatelic publication Svenska Dagbladet which told of an exhibition, being organised by Lichtenstein, which featured the yellow Tre Skilling Banco and described it as: ‘The pearl of the collection’. Although annoyed by the fact that he clearly had been taken advantage of Backman’s mother told him to be happy with what he had got for the stamps. Later Backman confirmed that the stamp originally came from a letter sent by his brother, a travelling botanist in his spare time, and that this could explain the ‘KNOPP’ cancellation which indicated the letter had been posted at Nya Kopparberget on July 13, 1857.
No other examples
After an exhaustive eight year search by Lichtenstein no other examples of this error of colour were found. It’s believed that the error of colour occurred when a 3 skilling cliché was mistakenly inserted into the form of the 8sk orange yellow of 1857. A few sheets are thought to have been printed but because the skilling banco stamps made way for a new decimal currency in July 1858 their life was short. No other example of the wrong colour has emerged in the near 150 years since the original, and seems very unlikely to do so at this late stage.
Ownership of the stamp has been interesting including, unsurprisingly, the world famous collector Count Ferrary and also King Carol II of Romania (who sold it in 1950). In 1978 it was sold through Edgar Mohrmann for £270,000; then the Swiss auction house Feldman sold it in 1984 for £314,309 – the same auctioneer sold it to Sven-Olof Karlsson in 1990 for £800,633 (then a world record for a stamp off cover). However, Karlsson failed to complete the purchase and so the item was again sold by Feldman (for the third time) on November 8, 1996. The auction was solely for the stamp and a beautiful hard-backed catalogue told the full story of its provenance and history. In the event it sold for a world record £1,400,000 to a Scandinavian group. This record stands to this day and the Tre Skilling Banco yellow is widely regarded as the most valuable man-made object on earth in relation to size, weight and composition.