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Sotheby's unveils the contents of Sale of Duplicate Stamps from The British Postal Museum & Archive in London
King Edward VIII, Registration blocks of 48 - (half-d). Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Further to Sotheby’s announcement last month of a sale of stamps from The British Postal Museum & Archive in London on 11 July 2013, it is now possible to unveil the contents of the sale. The auction will comprise material duplicate to the archive collection, with proceeds to benefit the new home of The British Postal Museum & Archive, which will be situated at Calthorpe House on London’s Mount Pleasant site and is scheduled to open in early 2016. In the July sale, collectors will have a choice of selected issues from the reigns of King George V (Seahorse issues), King Edward VIII and King George VI (definitive issues). The auction comprises 191 lots and is estimated to bring in excess of £5 million*.

Commenting on the collection of stamps to be offered, Richard Ashton, Sotheby’s Worldwide Philatelic Consultant, said: “This selection of material from The British Postal Museum & Archive includes numerous items that are of the utmost rarity. Now in my 50th year as a professional philatelist, I have never seen such an important sale of its type. Many are the only examples of their kind ever to come on to the market. Quite aside from their rarity, these extraordinary stamps are also of great beauty – engraved to the highest standard by leading masters of the day. Collectors will never again be presented with such a unique opportunity.”

Commenting on the sale, Adrian Steel, Director of the BPMA, said: “Since we first announced our project to open a new first class home for Britain’s postal heritage in London last year we have received widespread support, and following last month’s announcement of this sale it has been great to receive encouragement from those who want to play their part in our fundraising campaign by participating in the auction. The BPMA’s collections are of the utmost richness in iconic British heritage and engaging personal stories, and from family historians to families who want to immerse themselves in something new as part of a day out in London, our new centre offers something sparkling with fascination and enjoyment for everyone. It will safeguard all our collections into the future, and by taking up the chance to own the rare philatelic specimens on offer at Sotheby’s, all potential buyers can feel proud that they are helping to safeguard the originals, and all our world class collections, from Penny Blacks to packet ship records, for the nation and the world to enjoy.”

KING GEORGE V – The “Seahorse” Issues, 1915 to 1934 (Lots 1-12)
The "Seahorse" Issues, 1915 to 1934 are considered to be the finest stamps ever produced by Great Britain. The balance of design and the superb printing techniques employed converged to produce a series that is immensely popular with collectors. Designed by Bertram Mackennal with lettering by George W. Eve, the master die was engraved by J.A.C. Harrison. The "Seahorse" high face value stamps were in use for twenty-six years and involved four contractors. Variations in the paper, a plethora of shades and many different printing plates shaped their development during this time. The printers devoted much attention to the printing plates and this resulted in a host of re-entries, which are highly prized.

With the Seahorse Issues, it is possible to form a simplified 'one-of-each' collection of each issue. Other collectors might like to concentrate on the pursuit of the beautiful range of shades within each issue, while yet others are beguiled by the challenges posed by the technical complexities. Proofs of the "Seahorse" stamps have always been sought-after by collectors. Relatively few have survived and these range from progressive Die Proofs through to Colour Trials, each in their own way exquisite in design and execution. Why some were rejected in favour of others can be difficult to fathom when faced with such exceptional material.

The Registration sheets and part-sheets in Sotheby's sale afford a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to acquire items which are - in visual terms - some of the most magnificent objects in British philately. Lot 4 is a complete sheet of the 1923 Bradbury Wilkinson 10 shillings printed on 'Joynson' paper. Estimated at £100,000-120,000, it is extremely rare since no other examples exist on the philatelic market. Comprising 40 stamps, the Registration sheet is signed and endorsed on the back, with manuscript endorsements in the margins on the front

Lots 7-12 comprise the 1934 Re-engraved issue sheets, printed by Waterlow & Sons. They are available in single sets, pairs and blocks of four, plus the Registration blocks of 24. Estimates range from £5,000-6,000 each for sets of 3 marginal singles from the right of the sheet (lot 7); £10,000-12,000 for a set of 3 vertical pairs; £20,000-24,000 each for sets of 3 in blocks of 4 from the upper left corner of the sheet; and £130,000-160,000 for the set of 3 in unique Registration blocks of 24. The latter is a spectacular exhibition multiple, each block with a typed Registration Certificate on the reverse.

KING EDWARD VIII – Definitive Issues (Lots 13-40)
King Edward VIII ascended the throne on 20th January 1936. A few days later, the Post Office took the first steps in preparing designs for the postage stamps of the new reign. The designer of the iconic issue has been acknowledged as Hubert John Brown and a very poignant story regarding the design emerged in the years that followed. H.J. Brown recalled how, when sitting an examination at the age of eighteen in 1936, his thoughts strayed and he began to wonder what sort of stamps there should be for the new reign. He sketched a rough design and submitted it to the Postmaster General. A letter of acknowledgement was received by return with the comment: “I should perhaps mention, however, that the design is usually chosen from the competitive designs of distinguished artists.” The King rejected all the designs for the stamps save one which was, in fact, the design submitted by Mr Brown. Though certain adjustments were made, the issued stamp was essentially the work of Hubert Brown. The establishment was thrown into crisis with the King’s abdication and only following extensive publicity in the press was a begrudging acknowledgment prised from the Post Office confirming the identity of the young designer of the new stamps. Sotheby’s met with Hubert Brown in 1998 and his original sketches and archive were offered by the company in July 1999. Mr Brown passed away in December 1998 and is fondly regarded as a man who broke the staid mould of British stamp design.

Four values in the design were issued and Sotheby’s sale includes a single set, sets in pairs and blocks of four, and a set in blocks of six which have the printing Cylinder number. The star lot in this section is a set of four Registration blocks of 48, estimated at £100,000-120,000 (lot 18). Also on offer are blocks from the special Booklet panes of six in various forms, a similar range of Coil stamps, produced for use in vending machines, and the Postage Due issues from 1936 to 1937. Lot 40 comprises a unique collection of King Edward VIII issues, essentially ‘one-of-each’ from this reign, offered with a tempting estimate of £20,000-25,000.

KING GEORGE VI – The King George VI Issues, 1937 to 1947 (Lots 41-191)
The first issue of King George VI's reign comprises stamps from 1937 to 1947, known as the 'Dark Colours'. This description has its origins in the superior German ink used in their production. They were issued as a series of 17 values, from a half-penny to one shilling and covered all the basic postage rates. The offering follows the practice of a set in singles, pairs, and blocks of four, Cylinder blocks and the sensational Registration blocks. Estimated at £400,000-500,000 – the highest value item in the sale – this unique set of 17 horizontal blocks, spanning the sheets, comprises blocks of 48, 36 and 24 stamps in different values (lot 47).

The 1939 to 1948 'High Value' series (lots 82-86, lot 85) were first issued concurrently with the 'dark colours' low face value series and again used German ink for the first issue. They were printed in a smaller sheet. The auction will offer for sale larger multiples, including the Registration blocks which come to auction with an estimate of £250,000-300,000 (lot 86).

The wartime issue of 1941 to 1942, a short set of six values, are known as the 'Light Colours'. The stamps were printed in the same basic colour, but were much lighter, both because of a wartime economy measure – to save both wear on the printing cylinders and ink consumption – and the inferior quality of the inks. The designers of the stamps were Edmund Dulac (the King’s Head) and Eric Gill (the Frames) in the ½d to 3d values. Estimates range from £3,000-4,000 for a set of 6 marginal singles (lot 87) to £85,000-100,000 for a unique set of 6 horizontal Registration blocks (lot 94).

The 1950 to 1952 Colour Changes 'Festival of Britain' Low Values are so called as colour changes were made to comply with the Universal Postal Union colour scheme. The ½d to 2½d values were issued to coincide with the Festival of Britain. The sale will present single stamps, pairs, blocks of four and six, plus Registration blocks and Booklet and Coil variations. A highlight is a set of six unique horizontal Registration multiples, comprising blocks of 36 and 48, estimated at £140,000-180,000 (lot 130).

The 1951 Festival of Britain High face value series were a replacement series, their issue coinciding with the Festival of Britain. They are a celebration of modern design – the designers were Mary Adshead and Percy Metcalfe – and are offered as two single sets, vertical pairs, blocks of four and eight as well as the Registration blocks of 12, the latter estimated at £95,000-120,000 (lot 178).

The Postage Due issues of King George VI’s reign will offer units to suit collectors at every level, from a 1951-54 set of five marginal singles (estimate £2,500-3,000 [lot 186]), a 1937-38 set of seven marginal singles (estimate £3,500-4,000 [lot 179]), a 1937-38 set of eight blocks of four (estimate £14,000-16,000 [lot 181]) through to a 1937-38 set of eight unique vertical Registration blocks (estimate £180,000-220,000 [lot 184]).

The final lot in the sale (191) is a unique collection offering a single example of every King George VI issue, apart from the two high face value series. Estimated at £75,000-100,000, it provides a great opportunity to acquire what would be an essentially complete collection.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

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