The Major GB Rarities

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A select few Victorian stamps are very rare for the obvious reason that they had a high face value. In an age when the average take-home pay of a working man was under £1 a week, it stands to reason that few stamps of that value would be purchased solely for inclusion in collections. In this group we find the 10s and £1 stamps of the 1867-83 series.They were first released in 1878, with a Maltese Cross watermark, and in mint condition they now have a catalogue quotation of £28,000 and £32,000 respectively. At the same time, the £5 stamp was added to the series and, with blued paper, it rates £24,000.

The rarity of these 10s and £1 stamps is largely due to the fact that they were replaced by new designs after a fairly short life, but their successors – in use between 1884 and 1902 – are also extremely pricey nowadays. The 10s was originally released on April 1, 1884 in an ultramarine shade on blued paper (SG 177) and is now quoted at £16,000, but it was followed a month later by a cobalt shade (SG 177a), which now rates £18,000.

The corresponding £1 stamp also made its debut on April 1, 1884 with a watermark of three Imperial Crowns (£15,000) but was re-issued in February 1888 on paper watermarked with three Orbs (£26,000). Two stamps from Plate 2, lettered JC and TA, had broken frames and these varieties now rate £22,000 and £34,000 respectively in mint condition.

Most valuable item
Britain’s most valuable stamp is undoubtedly the celebrated Penny Red of 1864 printed from Plate 77. Previous Penny Reds, with lettering confined to the lower corners, had been produced from plates numbered up to 68, and so the first of the stamps with letters in all four corners were to have been produced from plate 69. However, this plate and several others – 70, 75, 77, 126 and 128 – were rejected as being sub-standard. What is most peculiar is that at least one sheet of stamps was printed from Plate 77 and, even more remarkably, a few stamps with this plate number engraved in the side panels got into the hands of the public. There is an example in the Tapling Collection at the British Library and about half a dozen other examples (mint or used) have so far been recorded.

Official overprints
From 1882 onwards certain stamps were overprinted for the use of the Inland Revenue and other government departments. Under Clause 17 of the Stamp Duties Management Act of 1891 it became a criminal offence to be in possession of such stamps, let alone trafficking in them. Several prosecutions in 1903-4, including that of one of the most prominent philatelists of the period (who received a prison sentence) led the authorities to withdraw these official stamps abruptly on May 14, 1904, and destroy existing stocks. That this decision was taken in great haste is borne out by the fact that a new stamp, the Edwardian 6d overprinted ‘I.R. OFFICIAL’, was only released a few weeks previously. As a result this stamp is now Britain’s rarest stamp to have been regularly issued. Today it’s worth £90,000 mint and £70,000 used.

The £1 stamps of Queen Victoria, similarly overprinted, are now catalogued at £22,000 (Crowns) or £30,000 (Orbs), but only in mint condition. As these high values were only employed for internal accounting purposes it would be hard to imagine used examples in the normal postal sense. The Edwardian 10s and £1 stamps with IR Official overprint, were released on April 29, 1902 and they now attract a quotation of £17,000 and £10,000 in mint state, or £10,000 and £8,000 respectively in used condition.

The Board of Education also specially overprinted stamps. This yielded the other major rarity from this category – the Edwardian 1s stamp issued on December 23, 1902 which is now listed at £40,000 mint and £30,000 used.

Modern rarities
Modern GB rarities have all arisen from the production of stamps in multicolour photogravure by Harrison and Sons. As early as August 1961, examples of the Savings Bank centenary set were turning up with one colour omitted. The omission of one or more colours can produce a spectacular effect, such as the missing Queen’s head or the ‘no value’ varieties.

The most expensive of these is the Roses 13p of 1976 with the value omitted (£20,000). Next come under a dozen stamps with a price tag of £10,000: Christmas 1s 6d of 1967, British Paintings 1s 6d of 1968, the Ships 1s of 1969 (two different varieties), the Anniversaries 3p of 1971, the Universities 3p of 1971, the Christmas 3 1/2p of 1974, the Historic Buildings 9p of 1978, the Rowland Hill miniature sheet of 1979 and the 12p and 15p of the Sports series of 1980.