Recently the Espace Léo Ferré served as the venue for the highly anticipated trade fair with 80 stands allocated to postal administrations and international stamp dealers including veteran philatelist and UK specialist Victoria Lajer, and Commonwealth Specialist Andrew Mansi from Stanley Gibbons and Renaud Varga, manager of Wincennes Philathélie.
No matter this digital age, the passion for stamps is unbated. Who would doubt it looking at the popularity of the site teeming with exhibitors (collectors and merchants) and enthusiasts representing so many nationalities.
“Penny Black” is not a film actress though the name resonates as if it were emblazoned on thousands of posters. Rather it is the famous stamp beloved by all “baby boomers” who as children grew up without email, without facebook and without an iPhone – imagine how childhood has changed. And was it not a rite of passage to have a stamp collection; certainly as a boy it was. And the dream was to own a rarer specimen of the Penny Black, one in mint condition, with pristine margins and from “plate 11” from which so much fewer were issued.
The Penny Black made history; first issued in Great Britain on 1 May 1840 , it deservedly has the reputation for being the world’s first widely used adhesive postage stamp – herald of a 19th century postal innovation aimed at charging the sender rather than the addressee. At the time when Queen Victoria was already on her death-bed at eighty-one years old this stamp with a cameo portrait of a young Queen was still being used. And rarely for stamps ever since, it never mentioned the country of origin.
Many millions of copies later, the “Penny Black” would become an icon, seared in the minds of stamp collectors. It gave birth to philately which found as its prized home this month Fontvieille, Monaco for its never to be missed exceptional event – where the Musée des Timbres et des Monnaies hosted an exhibition of “100 of the World’s Rarest and most iconic Stamps and Philatelic Documents” – including items belonging to His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco and to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Club de Monte-Carlo.
And the Mona Lisa, of the stamp world? Hello Monaco and stamp collecting enthusiasts ponder – would that be the celebrated Penny Black? Actually, it is Penny Black’s Cinderella “sister” Penny Red that is more admired. Penny Red plate 77 stamps were not meant to exist; the original printing plate was destroyed, but a tiny handful made their way into circulation, fit for royalty even without a glass slipper.
And the Salvatore Mundi of the stamp world? HelloMonaco will tell you, but don’t dream of 400 million euros – in the world of philately 20 million euros would probably be the moon, even if auctions do surprise. Currently, the runner-up for the world’s most valuable stamp is the Swedish Treskilling Yellow. Printed by mistake there is only one known surviving one.
And what is it with this question of stamp collecting dying out – take a look globally and there are waves of avid collectors in Asia, notably China, twenty million of them, all defying Mau Tze Tung’s dictate that stamp collecting be forbidden as a bourgeois pursuit. And they would die to find a rare “Red China”. This particular stamp was commissioned by Chairman Mao to represent communism over the whole of China. But by a complete error, the designer left Taiwan in white!
Children love collecting and there are always bubbles of exciting events like Euro 2016 Football and the future Olympic Games in Paris that capture the imagination and create waves of interest in new stamps. That stamps are not mainstream now to our culture, with email taking over from the good old personal letter and franking dominating the business mailings, is part of what we call progress.And for the kids nowadays there may be a digital avenue opening up – perhaps there will be a video-game with a hunt for the rarest stamps, protected by gyrating monsters. Zap the Monster and a rare Penny Black is yours! Or maybe Asian children will take up the reins of stamp collecting. And we know there are kids who love history and art and where better to go on a voyage of discovery than through philately. For adults and investors philately as an important niche remains and certainly retirees on the Cote d’Azur are enjoying it and their proximity to Monaco’s Musée des Timbres et des Monnaies
Maybe the age of religious and classical painting is past but it doesn’t stop people paying to admire a Mona Lisa or spending a fortune on buying a Da Vinci. The same goes for philately.
And the “Salvatore Mundi” of the stamp world as we approach 2020? HelloMonaco awaits the next Expo in Monaco to find out what the buzz will be around the rarest stamps in the world. Come to Monaco to find out. For the timeless, rarest and most beautiful stamps Monaco is the perfect destination to admire them.
And the “Salvatore Mundi” of the stamp world, today? It is the stamp that fetched $9.5 million in a 2014 auction “the British Guiana 1c magenta”. It is considered the most valuable and rarest stamp in the world. Only one of its type exists.