During our recent autumn 2021 auction series, there were a number of standout lots within the seven catalogues which attracted the eye of the discerning philatelist, and one item in particular, within the Italian States offering, received what can only be described as special attention which resulted in a winning bid of 146’400 EUR. We take a closer look at this philatelic treasure to see what makes it so highly regarded.   

The Papal State was one of the major historical states which covered the territories in central Italy where the Pope had sovereignty from 756 to 1870.  Broadly the Papal states occupied what are the modern day Italian regions of Lazio (including Rome), Marche, Umbria and Romagna, and parts of Emilia. For philatelists the excitement, and stamp story, began in 1852 when the Papal states produced eleven stamps, with the highest denomination being the 1 scudo, imperforate, printed on unwatermarked paper. The other ten lower values are from the ‘Bajocchi’ (Baj) denomination ranging from the ½b up to the 50b – there being 100 bajocchi to the Roman scudo at the time. Mint or used examples of the 1 scudo rose-carmine are elusive and the enthusiastic philatelist who cares to devote time in studying the postal offerings from any of the Italian states will recognise the importance of this stamp in any condition. Hence why, when a complete mint sheet of 50 of this 1852 first issue, with full original gum, margins all round, in remarkable condition, was offered for sale as Lot 40206 it received a remarkable bid of 120’000 EUR (146’400 EUR with buyers premium).  


And this was not the first time the full sheet had been under the glare of the auctioneers lights because during the prestigious ‘Alphonse’ collection sales held by Phillips, it featured on the title page of the Pontifical States and Sicily auction catalogue (lot 136, 25th October 1990), confirming its importance with a statement from the Italian expert, Enzo Diena. The estimate back then was £150,000-200,000, selling for £200,000 before buyers premium. It came from the world renowned stamp collection assembled by the Austrian philatelist, Alphonse Mayer von Rothschild, who features as our legendary collector this month so you can find out more about him in that article, but suffice to say that having come from Rothschild’s personal study on the Italian states it has philatelic pedigree. There is very little known about the Austrian’s stamp activities, other than when Phillips sold the entire collection it raised almost £7m, which ranks him as one of the all time great philatelists of his time. Material with the Rothschild Provenance adds value, which is underpinned by the personal statement made by Enzo Diena on the 1990 certificate which were in English, stating that the sheet of fifty was “unique” and regarded by Diena as “the single most valuable item in the entire area of Pontifical States philately”.  That is high praise from a decorated expert, who signed the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists in 1977, won the Lichtenstein Medal in 1978, and also the prestigious American Luff Award in 1981 for his exceptional contributions to philately, and later in 1984 Diena was awarded the Lindenberg Medal. In essence, this Papal States 1852 1 scudo carmine-rose complete sheet of fifty, has the rarity, the importance, the heritage and is certified and endorsed by a top expert. These features make this wonderful item highly regarded.