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Rarest Chinese stamp sells for HK$6.9 million in Interasia Auctions' record-breaking summer auction
1897 Red Revenue Small One Dollar (Lot 530 with a presale estimate of HK$6,500,000-HK$8,000,000).

HONG KONG.- China’s rarest regularly-issued stamp – the 1897 Red Revenue Small One Dollar – was sold for HK$6.9 million (presale estimate HK$6.5 million) in Interasia Auctions’ record-breaking June 29-July 1, 2013 auction. The 2,800 lot sale from the preeminent China, Hong Kong and Asian stamp auctioneers brought HK$71,851,540 (US$9,264,000), smashing its pre-sale estimate of HK$50 million (US$6.4 million), making it the year’s largest stamp auction (by dollar-volume) in Hong Kong as well as the largest auction of Chinese stamps anywhere in the world in 2013. Another highlight of the remarkable three day sale was a group of five 1884-1885 Taiwan envelopes from a family correspondence to Germany that brought a record total of HK$11,615,000 (US$1,498,000).

Only 32 examples are recorded of the 1897 Red Revenue Small One Dollar, which is acknowledged as the rarest regularly issued stamp of China and ranks among the world’s great stamp rarities. The Red Revenue series, of which the Small One Dollar is a part, was adopted as a provisional measure, as the set of stamps to reflect China’s new currency that was to be issued was delayed at their Japanese printer. Consequently, an unissued red revenue stamp was overprinted with various denominations as a stop gap measure. The Red Revenues are also considered by many to be the true first national issues of China, as the previous China stamps listed in the standard catalogues were issued by the foreigner-dominated Maritime Customs Department for their limited postal system. The Red Revenues were issued by the Qing Government itself for the national postal system that it was instituting. Their bright red color – a symbol of luck and good fortune in Chinese culture – no doubt adds to the series’ appeal. The Chinese characters in the Small One Dollar’s overprint were however considered too small, so that a second one dollar Red Revenue stamp with larger characters was subsequently issued, accounting for the limited issuance of this major world rarity.

The most dramatic moment in this noteworthy auction was the sale of five rare newly-discovered early envelopes from Taiwan, which brought a total of HK$11,615,000 (US$1,498,000) against a presale estimate of HK$880,000 through fierce bidding among floor and phone bidders.

The five 1884-1885 envelopes from a family correspondence to the then Chief Minister of the German principality of Oldenburg all originate in the Customs Post in Southern Taiwan and transit through Amoy (Xiamen) on the Mainland, representing very important pieces in the development of both the post in Taiwan and Cross-Taiwan Straits postal arrangements. Each bears the Customs Post handstamp of Takow (Kaohsiung) or Taiwanfoo (Tainan) of its southern Taiwan origin, as well as Hong Kong stamps cancelled by the British Post Office in Amoy, which paid the overseas carriage to Europe. Each brought over a million Hong Kong dollars, with the final envelope of the group – an 1885 envelope showing the earliest of the three recorded examples of the “Takow Customs/Mail Matter” handstamp – alone bringing a staggering HK$4,600,000 (presale estimate HK$200,000), a world record for both a Taiwan and a Hong Kong postal history* item. An 1884 Hong Kong postal stationery postcard – whose message discusses the difficulties of sending mail from Takow because of the French blockade during the then Sino-French War – immediately preceded this, bringing a riveting HK$2,300,000 (presale estimate HK$180,000), a world record for a Hong Kong postal stationery item. An 1884 envelope showing one of three recorded examples of the “Imperial Maritime Customs/Taiwanfoo” intaglio seal handstamp similarly realized HK$2,300,000 (presale estimate HK$200,000).

Dr Jeffrey Schneider, Director of Interasia Auctions and an international expert in Chinese and Asian philately, remarked: “The popularity and eight-figure result for the Taiwan envelopes, with bidders from three continents vying for them, were truly staggering. We were so excited by these that we gave them special presentation, with detailed explanations of their historical and philatelic contexts as well as researched the sender’s career.”

The auction also showcased a number of other important rarities of both the Qing Dynasty and the Republic periods of China, as well as other important postal history.

Two major postal history collections tracing the development of the Qing Dynasty 19th Century Chinese postal system from the issuance of China’s first stamps in 1878 kicked off the auction and were keenly competed over. Among the rare and choice envelopes, a lovely 1880 envelope from Great Britain to China bearing both Great Britain stamps and a China 3 candarin Large Dragon to pay the Chinese internal postage brought a staggering HK$1,380,000 against a presale estimate of HK$700,000 and one of four recorded envelopes with the Shasi dollar chop cancellation was sold for HK$920,000 (presale estimate HK$250,000).

A complete sheet of the 1878 Large Dragon 3ca. complete sheet of 20 from Setting V brought a record HK$747,500 (presale estimate HK$200,0000), highlighting the closely-followed 1878-85 Large Dragons. The extensive section of the iconic 1897 Red Revenues also included a rare Large Figures 2c mint pane of 25 with the sheet number in the margin (HK$1,092,500 versus presale estimate HK$700,000) and an unused $5 (HK$632,500 versus presale estimate of HK$550,000), and a mint 1898 $5 imperforate between pair, one of only six recorded, was knocked down for an eye-popping HK$598,000 (versus a presale estimate of HK$200,000), anchoring the impressive Coiling Dragon offering.

A substantial People’s Republic section reflected the popularity of this extensively collected subject both within Greater China and abroad, with the two complete sheets of the ever-popular 1980 Year of the Monkey bringing HK$1,150,000 and HK$1,092,500 (presale estimates HK$1,000,000 and HK$850,000 respectively).

There was similarly keen interest in the Hong Kong and Treaty Ports stamps and postal history section, with an 1854 envelope from Burma to Canton carried on the P&O’s short-lived Calcutta Line bringing HK$80,500 (presale estimate HK$30,000) and an 1877 envelope from Amoy to Scotland bearing a Hong Kong 16c. on 18c – the only recorded usage of this stamp on an envelope from Amoy – bringing HK$66,700 (presale estimate HK$50,000).

Dr Jeffrey Schneider, Director of Interasia Auctions and an international expert in Chinese and Asian philately, said: “Philately has a special place in Chinese culture, with rare stamps regarded as important cultural icons and treasures, just like art.

“Fierce competition for rarities and record-breaking sales reflect the economic growth of Mainland China and its emergence as an economic superpower, with stamp collecting holding a place both as a sophisticated and fashionable hobby, as well as a store of value and alternative investment.

“Major collectors have emerged in Mainland China in recent years, along with growing enthusiasm from ethnic Chinese abroad and non-Chinese alike, making Chinese stamps some of the most popular stamps in the world.

“While Chinese art markets, particularly the contemporary art markets, have seen significant corrections, classic Chinese stamps have shown a strong resilience.

“People’s Republic stamps – which had seen meteoric price rises and saw a substantial correction in late 2011 – are a strengthening market, and have shown increases in value of 200% or more over the last decade, notwithstanding the market correction in late 2011.”

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