An extraordinary find of 35 extremely rare 19th-century Chinese stamps in the United Kingdom is about to shock the worldwide stamp collecting hobby.
The stamps, which had lain undisturbed for approximately 125 years, were discovered in the attic of a house in the English Cotswolds. They are known as the China 1882 5-candarin orange yellow Imperial Dragon stamp.
“This is, in fact, the most outstanding find in the history of Chinese philately, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to unveil to the philatelic marketplace one of the greatest jewels of the China specialty,” explains Laurence Gibson, an international authority and dealer in Chinese rare stamps.
Specifically, the stamps were found in an ornate wooden tea caddy as three unused multiples of China Scott Catalogue number 6: a block of 19, a block of 10 and a block of six. An unused single of number 6 is valued at $16,000 in the current Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940.
According to a Feb. 9 report in the London Daily Mail, the stamps “were sent to an auction in Winchcombe, in Gloucestershire, where they were given an estimated value of between £800 and £1,000. However, they were snapped up for an astonishing £79,000 by international stamp dealers Allan Grant and Larry Gibson.” They will be offered again to the international philatelic marketplace at a Kelleher & Rogers public auction this coming spring in Hong Kong.
The block of 19 would go as high as $500,000 — while the additional 16 examples of the 5 candarin rarity — may help the final realization for all 35 stamps in the find climb towards the $1 million mark.
Grant, who owns Rushstamps in Lyndhurst, contacted Laurence Gibson of Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions in Danbury, Conn., to tell him of the find. Founded in 1885, the Kelleher firm is the oldest philatelic auction house in the United States. Kelleher & Rogers, Hong Kong, is a division of the Kelleher firm.
Grant and Gibson then decided to work together to buy the stamps, which non-philatelic auction house British Bespoke Auctions had as lot No. 94 — described as “A Cigar Box of Early Chinese Stamps” — in its Jan. 31 auction.
Following the conclusion of the sale, Gibson, a well-known expert on the stamps of early China, immediately flew to the United Kingdom and inspected the stamps personally. Gibson explains that all 35 stamps are in the correct shade “and have been plated with all cliches authenticated by me.” A cliche is the individual unit consisting of the design of a single stamp, combined with others to make up the complete printing plate.
Gibson provided background on the other known multiples of Scott number 6: “What is important to note is that, since 1882, only three recognized mint multiples of this stamp existed up until now,” Gibson said.
“They are the unique sheet of 25 originally offered in the 1991 Starr sale conducted by Sotheby’s, which fetched £374,000 and which was referred to as the most important item in Chinese philately. It was purchased by Lam Man Yin of Hong Kong who sold it privately to Mr. Ting in China for a rumored figure of around $1 million; a block of 8 from the Beckeman collection; and a margin pair, which is without equal quality-wise.”
The margin pair sold for $100,000 about five years ago, Gibson said.
The Kelleher firm will refer to the 35 newly-found 5c Imperial Dragon stamps as “The Lady Cotswolds Missionary Find” in its publicity for the upcoming auction.
A relative of the owner of the Cotswolds house where the stamps were found was a missionary in China who used the 5c Imperial Dragon stamps, among others, for postage. “The stamps remained in the family, safely tucked into little brown church donation envelopes since the late 1890s, when the missionary returned to the UK,” Gibson explained. “They were stored in the attic of their old family house and remained there for 125 years — amazing!”