The rarest of Chinese stamp go under the hammer this weekend. They will be sold by specialist Chinese philately auctioneer Dr Jeffrey Schneider, Director, for Interasia Auctions.
Stamps may seem inanimate things to collect – you can’t wear them, drive them or drink them - but their popularity has endured and their value continues to soar. Rare stamps make big money, even though most countries are shutting down their post offices as fast as they can. A total of 2,800 lots go under the hammer at The Excelsior Hotel, Hong Kong, for three days from June 29-July 1 and the sale is expected to raise HK$50 million (US$6.4 million).
Chinese stamps can be divided into pre and post 1949, says Dr Schneider.
The star of the show is the China 1897 Red Revenue Small One Dollar, estimated to make HK$6.5 million. That’s a lot for a small piece of paper. The 2,800 lots will be the largest stamp auction in Hong Kong this year (in dollar terms) and the world’s largest auction of Chinese stamps this year to date.
Only 32 examples of the China 1897 Red Revenue Small One Dolllar are still around, he says. It’s acknowledged to be the rarest regularly-issued stamp of China and ranks among the world’s great rare stamps. The Small One Dollar is a part of the Red Revenue series, and was only issued temporarily when the Japanese printer was late with the stamps that were supposed to accompany China’s new currency. As a result they overprinted the existing red revenue stamps with various denominations as a stop gap. The Red Revenues are the first national issues of China - the previous ones were printed by the foreigner-dominated Maritime Customs Department for their limited postal system. The Qing Government issued the Red Revenues itself for the first national postal system. They were bright red, a symbol of good fortune. But the Chinese characters in the Small One Dollar’s overprint were considered too small, so they produced a second one dollar Red Revenue stamp with larger characters, which accounts for their rarity, he adds. The auction also boasts rare stamps from the Qing Dynasty and the Republic (1911-49) periods of China.
The 1897 Red Revenues section also includes an unused $5 (estimate HK$750,000-HK$900,000) and a rare Large Figures 2c mint pane of 25 with the sheet number in the margin (estimate HK$700,000-HK$900,000). A mint 1898 $5 imperforate between pair – one of only six recorded – highlights the popular Coiling Dragons (estimate HK$200,000-HK$250,000).
The later People’s Republic section includes two complete sheets of the ever-popular 1980 Year of the Monkey (estimates HK$1,000,000-HK$1,200,000 and HK$850,000-HK$1,000,000), an unused set of the 1958 Student Union Congress with inscription errors (estimate HK$1,200,000-HK$1,500,000), as well as Cultural Revolution stamps, including complete sheets of the 1967 Chairman Mao’s Thoughts red and gold frame strips (estimate HK$350,000-HK$450,000).
There’s also Hong Kong stamps, with Queen Victoria multiples in outstanding condition, as well as stamps from Japan, Korea, Macau, the Philippines and Thailand.
Buyers for these stamps are expected from all over. The mainland Chinese apparently love stamp collecting, both as a hobby, and a store of value and alternative investment.
“Philately has a special place in Chinese culture, with rare stamps regarded as important cultural icons and treasures, just like art, and thus fiercely competed over, “said Dr Schneider. He said there was growing enthusiasm from ethnic Chinese abroad and non-Chinese, making Chinese stamps up there with the most popular and pushing up values. And while Chinese art has had a bumpy ride, classic Chinese stamps have held steady. That said the People’s Republic stamps – had meteoric price rises, then plummeted in late 2011 – but are picking up again, but even so have increased 200 per cent or more over the last decade, in spite of the correction. So get digging in those old chests and drawers belonging to your grandmother and don’t just chuck those pretty bits of paper away. They could be worth a fortune.