Plate 77 Penny Red postage stamp
A Plate 77 Penny Red is a highly rare British postage stamp.
Background and history
Although millions of Penny Reds were printed during their run, which lasted from 1841 until 1879, there were a number of plates which were never used due to technical faults.
In the majority of cases, the faults meant that the perforations were lined up incorrectly on the printed sheets and the test sheets were destroyed. The plates 69, 70, 75, 77 and 128 all produced sheets of this nature, and in theory stamps from these plates should not exist.
However, examples from plate 77 are known to have survived in small numbers. The manner in which they found their way into the public domain and the hands of collectors in unknown, but the Plate 77 Penny Red (regarded as “the philatelist’s Holy Grail”) has become one of the rarest and most sought-after British stamps ever produced.
There are very few known examples of the stamp still in existence, with just four mint examples and five used examples ever recorded.
Of these nine stamps, five have either been lost or have remained unseen for over 50 years meaning their authenticity is impossible to verify.
Of the four mint unused stamps, just two are held in existing collections.
One resides within the Royal Philatelic Collection owned by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and is housed in St James’s Palace in London. This stamp was acquired for the collection by King George V from the stamp dealers Bridger and Kay in the summer of 1918, and has the lettering ‘AB’.
The second confirmed mint example exists in the British Library as part of the Tapling Collection, a collection bequeathed to the Library by the wealth Victorian businessman Thomas Keay Tapling, MP after his death in 1891 at the age of just 35.
The third example recorded had a detailed history, including being shown in the collection of Per Gjerding at the London Exhibition in 1928. It was sold to a Major Raphael on 4th November 1959 at a Robson Lowe auction, and subsequently disappeared when the Major’s collection was stolen in 1965.
The fourth example was listed as part of the Ferrary Collection sold in Paris during the 1920s, and has not been seen since the auction.
Of the five known used examples, the existence of just two can be confirmed.
Two stamps are recorded as being discovered and sold by collectors during the early part of the 20th century, but neither of the examples have been sold or displayed in more than 50 years and as such their authenticity is impossible to confirm.
The third stamp was formerly part of the collection of the Henry J Crocker, a prominent San Francisco businessman and founder of the Pacific Philatelic Society. The majority of Crocker’s collection was destroyed in a fire following the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906, with just his famous Hawaiian Missionary stamps surviving (as they were on display in Britain at the time).
The fourth example was part of the Adams Collection which was donated by Hugh Greenwell Fletcher to the Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham, and later transferred to the British Library where it remains to this day.
The fifth example has been part of several notable stamp collections, including those of J de R Phillp, Hassan Shaida and the Isleham collection. This example was acquired by the stamp dealer Stanley Gibbons in early 2012.
In February 2012 the world’s oldest philatelic dealer Stanley Gibbons announced that it had acquired a Plate 77 Penny Red, one of just five used examples believed to exist.
Vince Cordell, Director of GB Philately at Stanley Gibbons commented:
"This example has graced some of the finest stamp collections ever formed and is not only a magnificent exhibition piece but one of the great rarities of Great Britain and World philately."
The stamp was offered for sale by the company with a value of £550,000, making it the most expensive single stamp in the company’s 156-year history.
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