To bid, or not to bid, that is the question
A Chinese Stamp Auction Story
A philatelic friend of mine recalled a story to me recently.
It is a true story…
“The bidding in the auction room stood at 2 million Hong Kong dollars, and all eyes were on me.
Ceiling fans offered some respite from the stifling heat outside, but the room still seemed unbearably hot.
Some 40 or 50 collectors and dealers, many of whom had made the trip from mainland China, jostled for elbow room. A bank of auction assistants manned telephones and laptops, processing bids from around the world.
It was one of the Chinese dealers who was currently the highest bidder. I had noticed him earlier. He had already beaten me to a couple of lots I had earmarked.
But not this time.
I nodded to the auctioneer. “2.1 million”, he announced, and a murmur ran through the room.
My rival shifted uncomfortably in his seat. This was already a record price, and more than he wanted to pay. “2.1 million Hong Kong dollars” the auctioneer announced again, looking at the dealer. He shook his head.
The auctioneer scanned the room for other bidders, but there were none. The hammer came down to a round of applause and camera flashes. A couple of collectors came up to shake my hand.
I had just paid around US$325,000 for a stamp.
A Vibrant Market
Hong Kong is the global hub for buying and selling Chinese stamps, with seven or eight international auction houses, and hundreds of stamp dealers crammed into tower blocks in Kowloon and Wan Chai.
Unlike the US and Europe, where stamp collecting is mainly the preserve of the older generation, the hobby is young and vibrant in Asia. Around one third of the world’s stamp collectors, some 20 million people, are Chinese, with the same number in India and Southeast Asia.
Most stamp dealers and auctioneers have an online presence. The increasingly prosperous Chinese middle class now have access to home computers and personal credit cards. Demand from Chinese collectors has mushroomed and auction prices have soared.
The world record price for a Chinese stamp was broken three times in 2010 (the year I bought my stamp for $325,000). The record currently stands at $2 million.
A Lucrative Mistake
The stamp I purchased was one of those record-breakers. It’s sometimes known as one of the “Treasures of the Republic” and features one of the founding fathers of China, Dr Sun Yat-sen.
But what makes this stamp so valuable is the portrait of Dr Sun is inverted.
The normal version of the stamp is common and sells for around $1. But shortly after the stamps were issued in 1941, one sheet - just 50 stamps – was discovered with an inverted centre.
To Chinese philatelists the “Dr Sun Invert” has been an iconic stamp ever since.
The stamp has remarkable parallels to a famous US stamp, the Inverted Jenny. This time, it was the Curtiss JN-4 biplane that was printed upside-down by mistake back in 1918. Only one sheet of 100 was found.
The discovery caused a sensation. The stamps immediately started trading for thousands of dollars. In 2018, a single Inverted Jenny sold for just under $1.6 million.
Given the growing market for rare Chinese stamps, the Dr Sun Invert clearly had good investment potential. One of my clients clearly thought so too. He snapped it up a few days after the auction.”
The takeaways from this story
This story is only one of many. It is a real-life indicator of what is happening in the Chinese stamp market.
Despite recent high growth, Chinese stamps are still cheaper than comparable rarities from both the US and UK. This is evident from the price comparison between the Dr Sun Invert and the Inverted Jenny.
The growing number of wealthy individuals in China is the biggest theme for the future…
The Huron Report last quoted that 64% of Chinese millionaires have invested in stamps.
With a reported 1.58 million millionaires in China, there is clearly a lot of money flowing into the Chinese stamp market, inevitably forcing prices upwards.
We have recently sourced some new and interesting Chinese rare stamps.
I urge you to take a look by clicking on the link below.
They won’t be around long. Chinese stamps are not our biggest seller, but they are our fastest.
There are three, in particular, I would really recommend:
The beginning of Imperial China’s philatelic heritage
China 1878 3ca brown-red, 2½mm spacing on thin paper, horizontal pair from setting 1, clichés 11-12, used by light CUSTOMS/NINGPO circular datestamp in blue, cliché 12 showing constant variety 'break in dragons' lower-right claw', SG2.
The “Large Dragon” stamps were the first issue of the Chinese Empire. These stamps have captivated collectors almost from the moment they were first printed.
This example is particularly pleasing because:
- This issue is much rarer as a horizontal pair and therefore worthy of a premium value
- It is a fine quality example with an attractive circular datestamp which succeeds in not obliterating the design
- It holds additional interest showing the printing variety with the missing lower-right dragon’s claw
Almost all early Chinese stamps have significant condition defects. Finding examples of this quality is always a special treat.
Chinese stamp collectors have increasingly become more condition focussed in recent years and we are now seeing the justified premium prices being realised at auctions for the finest quality examples.
A rare error of colour
China 1897 (Aug) Tokyo Tsukiji type foundry printing, 50c deep green error of colour, mint, SG104b
This stamp, depicting a Carp, was from the first issues to be inscribed “Imperial Chinese Post”.
The error arose with the 10c colour being used in error instead of the intended bright yellow-green of the 50c stamps.
It caught my eye because:
- It is a rare stamp error of colour, yet remains available at a relatively modest price
- It is very scarce, with only 240 examples believed to have been issued
- It is a particularly fine example for an early Chinese stamp with large part original gum and only light gum toning
Although 240 examples of this error are known to have been issued, it is much rarer today. Fewer examples survived and it is the first example we have handled.
These stamps were never on sale to the public
China 1944-45 Chungking Central Trust printing, Parcels Post set of 6 to $20,000 red-orange, mint, SGP711/16.
These Parcel Post Stamps were not on sale in unused condition, but were affixed to parcels and cancelled by postal officials.
In 1948, permission was given for cancelled stamps to be sold to the public. Unused Parcel Post stamps such as these were probably from stocks seized by the Communists.
What I find most appealing about this set:
- They are very rare. The $20,000 stamp in particular is extremely difficult to find in decent quality.
- It is a fresh quality mint set and very attractive
- These Parcel Post stamps were never on sale to the public and it is amazing that a complete set of this quality survived
I think very rare stamps such as these have a high chance of growing in value. It stands to reason that with a large influx of new wealthy Chinese collectors, and few opportunities to buy such rarities, we will see prices rise.
3 Ways to order your Chinese stamps
You can order your stamps today by:
- Purchase directly from our website
- Respond to this blog with details of the stamp(s) you would like to purchase
- Call us on +44(0)1534 639998 to secure your stamp(s)
China has produced a large number of charming and interesting stamps during its history. Some have found their way onto the list of the most sought after stamps in the world.
I think there is a real chance lucky collectors today will be cashing in a fortune in the future.
CEO Just Collecting
PS. We are currently experiencing high demand for nice quality Chinese rare stamps and are always on the lookout for opportunities to source more for our clients. If you have suitable quality Chinese stamps you would like to sell, please drop an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoyed this blog? You may also like:
December 31, 2019: A happy new year
December 30, 2019: The 10 weirdest auction lots of 2019
December 27, 2019: Some like it hot, do you?
The bookmarklet lets you save things you find to your collections.
Note: Make sure your bookmarks are visible.
Click and drag the Collect It button to your browser's Bookmark Bar.