One of the curious things about philately is the fascination with errors. Or is it the fascination with how the errors occurred? Probably both, but whatever the reasons the featured stamp, which is the South Australia 1868 “3 PENCE” on 4d deep ultramarine with the surcharge omitted, is certainly a fascinating stamp, even though we have no idea why it didn’t get its surcharge overprinted.

As well as being one of the great rarity of this region and one of ‘the’ famous errors of Australian and indeed the British Empire it is also one of only two unused examples of this error which exists in private hands, with the only other being in the Royal Collection (which was in a horizontal pair with the lower stamp when bought by S.G. in 1901). There are only 11 used examples recorded of which seven are in private hands. It was first reported in the “Philatelic Record” in October 1879 and listed by Stanley Gibbons in 1892. Today it is catalogued by Stanley Gibbons at £50’000 unused and £55’000 for used, which given the number of used examples on the market it seems that the unused catalogue value is significantly undervalued. The last used example sold was in the Gary Diffen collection in April 2020 and realised £40’000 (hammer). Infact this unused vertical pair could, and perhaps should be comparable in rarity to the famous “Inverted Swan” error of Western Australia of which only seven examples, all used, remain in private hands. Stanley Gibbons gives that a catalogue value of £180’000. The last example offered at auction sold for CHF290’400 (including buyer’s premium) in the Besançon collection in 2018, which was just under £220’000 at the time.

It certainly boasts a philatelic pedigree, the provenance reading like a who’s who of the great and good philatelists of the 19th and 20th century. The top example of this rejoined pair having been in the collections of; Ernest Brown, Colonel Harry Napier, John Griffiths, Barton Sparrow and Michael Blake and the lower example coming from the Count Ferrary collection (Sale 7 lot 107), and Alfred H. Caspary and John R. Boker. The latter who is the feature of this month’s legendary collector series.   

What is certain and less curious is that these errors do not come to market often and unused pairs extraordinarily rarely, so it is a delight that our June auction series feature this as one of the standout items within the British Empire offering on Friday 17th June 2022, although you don’t have to wait until then to bid as you can registered your bids online or via contact us directly. Your name could be added to the illustrious set of names on the Provenance record. Good luck!!