An example of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black, is being offered at auction, Sotheby’s said on Tuesday, with a price estimate of up to $8.25 million.
Dating from 1840, the item is “the earliest securely dated example of the first postage stamp,” according to the auction house that will present it at its “Treasures” sale on December 7
The adhesive stamp, which features a profile of Queen Victoria, is attached to a document dated April 10, 1840, from the archive of British postal service reformer Robert Wallace, a Scottish politician. The Penny Black, which introduced a flat rate, was used from May 6, 1840. Before that, the recipient paid the postage cost.
“This is the first ever stamp, the precursor to all stamps, and unequivocally the most important piece of philatelic history to exist,” Henry House, head of Sotheby’s Treasures Sale, said in a statement.
“Though there are many hugely important stamps in collections both public and private around the world, this is the stamp that started the postage system as we know it.”
The stamp is one of three Penny Blacks believed to have survived from the very first sheet of printed stamps. The other two are part of the collection at the British Postal Museum.
The stamp and the Wallace Document is owned by philatelist and businessman Alan Holyoake.As one of the world’s leading stamp collectors, he has seen many rare items in his time.But for Mr Holyoake, this one is exceptionally special.
“It is a world icon. It’s a world icon because it actually is the very first stamp,” he said.”So, it’s a stamp that came from the very first sheet of stamps that were printed.”
Mr Holyoake bought the Wallace Document 10 years ago for less than 50,000 pounds ($92,000).At the time, rumours circulated that the stamp was one of the first Penny Blacks ever printed.
It took three years of research to prove that was true and get official authentication from The Royal Philatelic Society, London, and the British Philatelic Association.
That certification has raised its value significantly and a recent stamp sale has stoked Mr Holyoake’s hopes that The Wallace Document would fetch a record-breaking price.
“I do hope that someone who buys it actually understands its importance as being a world icon,” he said.
“A world icon, not as a stamp, but a world icon as being an important first when it comes to social history and communication.”