Prince Rainier's impressive stamps collection

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It wasn’t until 1917 that the collection which today belongs to His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco began to take shape. That year it was bought by Prince Albert I of Monaco from the late Reverend G.G. Barber – an English pastor who lived in Monaco. Barber had gathered many philatelic rarities such as various postmarks used on covers to Monaco and to Menton, the Sardinian and French issues cancelled in the Principality from 1851 to 1885, and the first Monaco stamps issued with the head of Prince Charles III in 1885. The collection included different varieties of shades and essays for some of the earliest Monagesque issues.

Prince Louis II further enriched this private collection and bought a beautiful lot of mint first issues of the reign Charles III and of Albert I from the great collector Albin Harnish. Back in 1937 Prince Louis II created the ‘Office Des Emissions de Timbres-Poste’ ( Monaco Philatelic Bureau and Post Office) which was commissioned to take great care with supplying all of the philatelic issues to emanate from Monaco.

Since his accession to the throne in 1949 H.S.H. the Prince Rainier III has taken a very active role in all the philatelic issues produced by the principality – right down to choosing the subject, the size and format, and the careful checking of the colour proofs. A Monegasque stamp can’t be issued until it has been officially sanctioned by the Prince.

Prince Rainier believes that stamps are a constant embodiment of a nation’s heritage and development. Indeed he is quoted as saying that stamps are: ‘The best ambassador of a country’. The Prince has added many important pieces and covers in the last 50 years and has personally ensured that all the philatelic items have been classified correctly and in chronological order. The Prince’s philatelic collection is divided into three main periods:–

• Les Precurseurs (the Forerunners) – this part of the collection dates back to 1641 and includes the cancellers used on Monaco covers from the 18th century onwards. It also features the Sardinian and French postmarks used in the two postal offices in the principality – Monaco and Menton – before the definitive usage of true Monegasque stamp designs from 1885.

• Les Classiques (the Classics) – the issues of Monegasque stamps from 1885 to 1921 covering the reigns of Charles III and Albert I.

• Les Modernes (the Modern section) – this section stretches from 1921 to the issues of today and illustrates the important development of commemorative stamps. It covers the reigns of Prince Louis II and Prince Rainier III.

Consultative Committee
A Consultative Committee for Prince Rainier’s philatelic collection was formed in 1977 to develop and promote the collection. Prince Rainier heads the Committee, Andre Palmero is its President and Michel Granero is the Secretary. Like any other collector Prince Rainier treats it as a very personal possession, although it will pass to Prince Albert when he comes to the throne. In recent years the Committee has widened the make-up of the collection to include fiscal stamps. The Monegasque issues are housed in more than 100 big format albums. In the albums they are classified in chronological order in many categories – size, die, colour die, and essays.

The very valuable albums incorporate cancellations of Sardinian and French stamps on and off cover during the periods that those territories administered Monaco’s postal services. Amongst the albums are the best known multiples and the majority of repertoire varieties of Monaco stamps. Together they constitute an unequalled study of the stamps of Monaco and an unrivalled reference library. The collection covers more than two centuries of postal history with stamps, postmarks (and cancellations) used under the diverse postal regimes up to the present day.

Prince Rainier has a real passion for stamps and for each new set extensive notes are taken on how many have been printed and sold, and the rest are then destroyed. This helps other Monaco collectors as they can know the exact printing number of each set as indicated in the Yvert & Tellier catalogue.

The most expensive piece of Monegasque philately is a strip of five of the famous 5fr stamp of Charles III. Just over 1,000 pieces exist and the Prince has several including the strips of five copies in mint condition. Such a strip is worth over £250,000. The 5fr Charles III issues exist only as singles or at maximum in strips of five. Postal counter clerks at the time were told for security reasons to split the sheets into strips of five. The strips in Prince Rainier’s collection are probably unique as only unmounted mint strips and single copies come up in exhibitions or sales.

According to Michel Granero despite the fact that the collection is almost complete, Prince Rainier is acutely aware of exactly what is missing and he is always on the lookout to fill spaces. Prince Rainier never ceases to improve the collection and is said to be ‘delighted’ if he finds a new piece. Every page in the collection is especially designed in gold letter writing with his name, coat-of-arms and gold edging.

Errors and varieties
A number of errors and varieties exist despite the fact that the Monaco Post Office takes great care to discover them. Indeed, according to his close philatelic advisors Prince Rainier’s interest is also captured by errors. There are some very good examples of Monaco errors in the collection. They include 1920 overprints with the ‘C’ of the value inverted, Monaco issues are equally known with an overprint or a double overprint, colour varieties in many shades on the normal stamps, and more recently with the stamp ‘Moscow 98’ perforation fault on ONU block.

There have also been printing variety faults caused through a bad cut of rubber, colour dissociation or by using the wrong ink, and an unissued stamp which is nevertheless in circulation! The ‘Seven Centuries of History – the Princes’ block from 1997 displays an error at the moment of printing because the names of the Princes were mixed up. This error was not withdrawn. Despite some Monaco errors in the collection it’s fair to say that Prince Rainier’s stamp collection is probably the best in the world personally compiled by a truly dedicated philatelist.