GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

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GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by Marcophily »

Glen mentioned in one of his Stamp News articles the "GB 1840 1d Black on May 3 cover that sold by Harmers Lugarno Switzerland for at that time 3,400,000 Swiss francs (or $US2,415,000) in March 1991".

Could any one advise me in more detail about this item, please.

Thank you!
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by iomoon »

From an article by the late Barth Healey in the NY Times (edited slightly).

The Penny Black, sold March 23 in Lugano, Switzerland, by Harmers Auctions S.A., was canceled in London on May 2, 1840, the day after it went on sale, but four days before it became valid for postage.

The envelope was itself an oddity: a letter-sheet known as a Mulready that was turned inside out. The Mulready also went on sale May 1, 1840, and was to become valid May 6.

But the recipient, a resident of Morpeth, turned the Penny Black envelope right side in so the Mulready design showed properly and mailed it to another addressee in Morpeth on May 4. Thus the envelope bears two early postmarks.

In addition, when the letter was mailed the second time, there apparently was an enclosure, because there is a penny postage due notation on the Mulready face of the envelope.

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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by zakur »

Is there a scan image of this envelope?
http://www.albumdeestampillas.com.ar" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://albumdeestampillas.blogspot.com" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by Nguyen »

iomoon wrote:From an article by the late Barth Healey in the NY Times (edited slightly).

The Penny Black, sold March 23 in Lugano, Switzerland, by Harmers Auctions S.A., was canceled in London on May 2, 1840, the day after it went on sale, but four days before it became valid for postage.

The envelope was itself an oddity: a letter-sheet known as a Mulready that was turned inside out. The Mulready also went on sale May 1, 1840, and was to become valid May 6.

But the recipient, a resident of Morpeth, turned the Penny Black envelope right side in so the Mulready design showed properly and mailed it to another addressee in Morpeth on May 4. Thus the envelope bears two early postmarks.

In addition, when the letter was mailed the second time, there apparently was an enclosure, because there is a penny postage due notation on the Mulready face of the envelope.
Hi iomoon,
I guess Glen refered to another cover, cancelled 3 May 1840. If it were a Mulready, he would have said so.

Glen,
Can you help, please?
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by Nguyen »

This is the best (!) clue that I can find from the net of the item that iomoon kindly refered to:

Image

Stamps
By Barth Healey, The New York Times April 7, 1991

An early cover bearing the world's first postage stamp, the British Penny Black, has been sold at auction for $2.4 million, almost double the highest previous price for a philatelic item.

The Penny Black, sold March 23 in Lugano, Switzerland, by Harmers Auctions S.A., was canceled in London on May 2, 1840, the day after it went on sale, but four days before it became valid for postage.

The envelope was itself an oddity: a letter-sheet known as a Mulready that was turned inside out. The Mulready also went on sale May 1, 1851, and was to become valid May 6.

But the recipient, a resident of Morpeth, turned the Penny Black envelope right side in so the Mulready design showed properly and mailed it to another addressee in Morpeth on May 4. Thus the envelope bears two early postmarks.

In addition, when the letter was mailed the second time, there apparently was an enclosure, because there is a penny postage due notation on the Mulready face of the envelope.

Mulready letter-sheets, little known in the United States, are much collected in Britain. Early types bear an elaborate drawing of Brittania triumphant, and were lampooned when they were first produced by William Mulready, the designer.

But, as James MacKay notes in his very useful book, "Philatelic Terms Illustrated" (Stanley Gibbons, London), Mulready "inadvertently triggered off the mid-Victorian fashion for pictorial stationery."

The cover's seller was unidentified, and the buyer was described by his Swiss agent only as a Japanese executive.

The last time the cover was sold, in November 1988, it went for about $125,000; its value has thus risen nineteenfold in two and a half years.

The previous record price for a philatelic item, about $1.3 million, was paid in May 1990 for an 1855 Swedish stamp, a used 3-skilling-banco value that was printed in yellow rather than blue. The amount remains the highest ever paid for a single stamp, although some experts, including at least a few at the Swedish Postal Museum, have suggested the stamp is a forgery.

Before the sale of the 3-skilling- banco, a stamp unknown to the general public, the highest price for a single stamp was $935,000, paid in 1980 for the one-cent Guiana magenta-black, a better-known item. The plate block of four "Inverted Jennies," upside-down airmails that are the best known United States rarity, sold for $1.1 million in October 1989.

https://www.nytimes.com/1991/04/07/news/stamps.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by Nguyen »

GB stamps and covers in top 50

In May, 2005, Linn's Stamp News published a list of the top 50 stamps and covers based on auction realizations. The prices are in US dollars and do not include any private sales. Four Great Britain stamps and covers are included in the list.

- Number 2: $2,415,000 for an 1840 Penny Black used on May 2, 1840 on a turned Mulready letter sheet that was subsequently turned the right way and remailed on May 4. Neither item was yet valid for postage — although both were issued on May 1, the first day of validity was May 6. Harmers Auctions, Lugano, Switzerland, March 23, 1991.

- Number 26: $564,670 for a unused block of 36 of the 1840 Penny Black. Harmers Auctions, London, November 7, 1989.

- Number 35: $422,150 for a block of 10 Penny Blacks used on the first day of validity, May 6, 1840. It was purchased by the Royal Philatelic Collection. Stanley Gibbons, London, June 24, 1998. (In spite of the description in this list, this cover was sold by publicly announced agreement between Gibbons and the Collection after it failed to meet the reserve in a public auction.)

- Number 38: $404,800 for a Penny Black mailed on May 1, 1840 and correctly treated as invalid for postage. David Feldman, Geneva, Switzerland, February 17, 1999.
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by pertinax »

In addition, when the letter was mailed the second time, there apparently was an enclosure, because there is a penny postage due notation on the Mulready face of the envelope.
This is of course incorrect.

Both the ms 1 on the Mulready side and the handstamp 1 (x 2 in red, one of which cancels the stamp) on the penny black side, are there because neither the stamp nor the Mulready were at that point valid for postage. On both occasions the item has been paid in cash at the PO counter, before being put into the mail system.

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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by pertinax »

.....if you think about it, it's impossible to have an unpaid/due amount of a penny.

By it's very nature, the charge must be twopence or more.


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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by Nguyen »

Scott, do you have a better scan of the cover? Thanks!
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by ozstamps »

Nguyen - this is THE mystery 1d Black item really!

When sold in 1991 I did not have a computer (nor did anyone else either!) so sadly no scan stored.

I wrote articles on it at the time time though.

I have NO idea how or why it sold for anything like $US2.4 million .. a quite absurd price for near 20 years back.

This cover seems to be a ghostly mirage like thing. :mrgreen:

It is not illustrated in A.G. RIGO DE RIGHI's fine "The Story of the Penny Black and Its Contemporaries" book, nor in Norman Williams superb "An Album Of Rare Stamps".

And seems not to have appeared since.

Harmers of course, like near all major auctions, have appalling - indeed totally non-existent on-line records of such things.

Harmers did a nice hard cover catalogue for this one cover sale, that I have in my rubble here somewhere but sadly cannot locate it.

I've just asked my friends at Linn's Stamp News if they might be able to offer me something to use here. :mrgreen:
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by pertinax »

Image

This is from Mike Jackson's "May Dates".

I do hope he doesn't mind this breach of his copyright 'for genuine study purposes'.

Better sized image here:

https://i239.photobucket.com/albums/ff293/pertinax192/2Maycovmulreadybig.jpg" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by admin »

Image
Image
Took this from the Pertinax scan ................
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by Nguyen »

Thank you very much, Scott and Glen!

Your scan, though black and white, is much much better than the above one that a friend of mine copied from Vietnam's Tap chi Tem some 15 years back.
pertinax wrote:Both the ms 1 on the Mulready side and the handstamp 1 (x 2 in red, one of which cancels the stamp) on the penny black side, are there because neither the stamp nor the Mulready were at that point valid for postage. Scott
Could you please advise what MS here stands for?

And do you both know of any other cover(s) that were cancelled from 1 - 5 May 1840? I read somewhere (on the net, but I can not find it right now) that there remains at least another cover with the penny black cancelled on 2 May. Another website points out that there are 76 recorded FDCs (cancelled on 6 May).
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by pertinax »

ms = manuscript.


There are about 50 pre-6 May covers.

About 10 of them have stamps on them, and some of these are definitely faked.

The rest are penny Mulreadies.


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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by GlenStephens »

Linn's also had no original scans they could locate, but at least had the sale catalogue to take an image off.

A blue pattern comes out on doing that, and colours are too dark, and maybe that can be worked around later on, but in the meantime my thanks to them for offering something in colour!

As I said for a $US2 million+ item this is quite a mystery piece, and very few have seen photos of it.

Image

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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by Marcophily »

GlenStephens wrote:Linn's also had no original scans they could locate, but at least had the sale catalogue to take an image off.

Image
Thank you all very much!

Glen, could you please tell me what are the yellow grid lines on the cover? Thanks!
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Re: Penny Black on May 3 cover?

Post by GlenStephens »

ozstamps wrote:

Harmers did a nice hard cover catalogue for this one cover sale, that I have in my rubble here somewhere but sadly cannot locate it.
Located it today!
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2 May 1840 Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's on 2 Feb 2024

Post by straq »

I always enjoy seeing stamps and stamp collecting in the news.

In this case it is an article in CNN about an upcoming Sotheby's auction with a rather nice Penny Black on cover:
A very early Penny Black cover
A very early Penny Black cover
Link to the CNN article:

https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/11/style/first-prepaid-mail-penn ... rning_brew

Apologies in advance if someone has already posted this.
Last edited by straq on 13 Jan 2024 05:52, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: It is always nice to see stamp collecting in mainstream media

Post by Global Admin »

EVERY new thread needs a photo - and add the text as well please.

You have an hour to edit.

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Re: It is always nice to see stamp collecting in mainstream media

Post by blue-within-blue »


It's the first known usage of a penny black, which Sotheby's estimate may make $1.5 million or more. Uniquely, it was a Mulready envelope turned inside out with a stamp affixed, postmarked May 2nd, and then turned back out and re-used by the recipient on May 4th : both before the official first day of use on May 6th.
Penny black 1st.jpg
Penny black 1st 2.jpg
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Re: It is always nice to see stamp collecting in mainstream media

Post by billw2 »

That’s more than I’d have thought but to be fair it’s gotta be the single earliest surviving use of a postage stamp on earth.

Quite the item for ANY philatelist to own and I can see why it’s mainstream news.
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Re: It is always nice to see stamp collecting in mainstream media

Post by straq »

Thank you blue-within-blue (Rob).
I was still fumbling around trying to add the jpeg under a tight deadline. :shock:
Will do better next time!
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Re: It is always nice to see stamp collecting in mainstream media

Post by CMJ »

So people don't have to go looking for the additional information, I have collated some below (and chaged the topic's title) so that it might get more attention.

On 2 February 2024, Sotheby's in New York are holding a sale called "The One"
https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2024/the-one?locale=en

Lot 8 is called "The Birth of Modern Communication" and is a penny black cover used on 2 May 1840. It has an estimate of 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 USD.
Sotheby's "The One" Sale
Sotheby's "The One" Sale
The text from the Sotheby's Text is ....

Description

GREAT BRITAIN, 1840 1d Black, Plate 1a, lettered H I, tied by red double line (evening) May 2 1840 “A” London tombstone date stamp and one of two red “1” hand stamps on reverse of — 1d Mulready letter-sheet, stereo A64, addressed to Wm Blenkinsop Esquire, B(edlington) I(ron) Works, Bedlington, Nr. Morpeth – prepaid.

Turned and resent as Mulready with black Morpeth May 4 1840 circular date stamp and red manuscript “1” addressed to Mr. Blenkinsop, Dalston, Carlisle – prepaid.
2 May 1840 Penny Black
2 May 1840 Penny Black
2 May 1840 Penny Black Reverse
2 May 1840 Penny Black Reverse
4 May 1840 Mulready
4 May 1840 Mulready
Provenance

William Blenkinsop Esquire (recipient)
Robson Lowe, London, 27 April 1960, lot 32
Phillips Son and Neale, London, 3 November 1988, lot 224
Harmer Auctions SA, Lugano, Switzerland, 23 March 1991, lot 1
Private European Collection

Exhibited

Washington, D.C., Smithsonian National Postal Museum, May 2, 1840 Penny Black Cover; The Genesis of Philately, May 2014
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Re: 2 May 1840 Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's on 2 Feb 2024

Post by CMJ »

As this is a very well known item, its sale has been reported in the philatelic press over the years. I know it is normal to quote sale prices including any buyer's premium but as I don't have access to all the original sale catalogues, all the prices are the hammer price only.

At the Phillips sale in November 1988, it realised £65,000 as reported in Gibbons Stamp Monthly (February 1989).
GSM February 1989 page 18
GSM February 1989 page 18
Missing from Sotheby's provenance is a sale at Habsburg, Feldman in Geneva on 27 November 1989. It was estimated at 160,000 SF and described ....
Habsburg, Feldman 27 November 1989
Habsburg, Feldman 27 November 1989
It realised 170,000 SF (estimated to be about £68,000 at the time) as reported in Gibbons Stamp Monthly (April 1990).
GSM April 1990 page 17
GSM April 1990 page 17
At the Harmer sale in March 1991, it set a world record price for a philatelic item when it realised 3,400,000 SF (£1,350,000) as reported in Gibbons Stamp Monthly (June 1991)
GSM June 1991 page 5
GSM June 1991 page 5
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Re: 2 May 1840 Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's on 2 Feb 2024

Post by CMJ »

Now turning to the item, itself, the 1989 sale also included images of the Penny Black and Mulready sides of the letter
2 May 1840 Penny Black (from 1989)
2 May 1840 Penny Black (from 1989)
4 May 1840 Mulready (from 1989)
4 May 1840 Mulready (from 1989)
Comparing with the latest image from Sotheby's
2 May 1840 Penny Black (from 2024)
2 May 1840 Penny Black (from 2024)
It is clear that it has had a little "conservation" work which does not appear to be mentioned in the sale catalogue.

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Re: 2 GB, May 2 1840 Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by CMJ »

Glen,

Thank you for finding the earlier thread and merging. That was going to be my next job. Honest :lol:
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Re: 2 GB, May 2 1840 Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by Global Admin »

In 2014 it was held together with adhesive tape.

Someone at Sothebys has been VERY naughty, and downright deceptive, to not mention it has been extensively restored. :roll: :roll:

Capture.JPG
Capturerr.JPG

A Penny Black stamp on a Mulready one penny letter sheet, will provide the highlight of the National Postal Museum's new William H Gross Stamp Gallery in the US in May.

The Penny Black was issued on May 6, though this was sent on May 2 and is the earliest known use in conjunction with a Mulready one penny letter sheet

A stunning piece displaying the world's earliest philatelic items, the letter sheet will go on display from May 3-11, 2014 in celebration of the May 6, 1840 issue of the world's first adhesive pre-paid postage stamp, the Penny Black, which forever changed postal services across the world.

The example on display is the earliest known use of the Penny Black in conjunction with a Mulready one penny letter sheet, sent on May 2, 1840. While the official release for both sheet and stamp was planned for May 6, some post offices in Great Britain sold the items slightly ahead of schedule.

"The May 2, 1840, cover connects us to the very beginnings of philately and the modern postal system," commented Allen Kane, director of the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC.


Exhibited

Washington, D.C., Smithsonian National Postal Museum, May 2, 1840 Penny Black Cover; The Genesis of Philately, May 2014

https://www.paulfrasercollectibles.com/blogs/postage-stamps/ ... tal-museum
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Re: 2 GB, May 2 1840 Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by Allanswood »

A close up via a larger scan.

GB PB 1840 snippet.JPG


Paper repair fibres can be seen at the top.
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Re: 2 GB, May 2 1840 Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by Global Admin »

Image


Capture.JPG

The Mulready face also appears to have been painted with a bleach -- to try and lessen the very heavy toning. Bleach and pen and ink do not work well together.

The address wording looks noticeably faded to me in the recent extensive facelift.

Again, outrageously not mentioned by Sothebys.

Does it have ANY kind of Certificate, does anyone know?
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by Global Admin »

Anyway, once again Sothebys are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land if they think this heavily repaired thing will get $US1.5m - $US2.5m plus their 30% or whatever outrageous buyer fees etc.

It is an historic piece and $US150,000 or so is about right given the condition. Unless Gibbons of course see it - they seem to be attracted to overpriced defective material! :lol: :lol: :lol:

That last joke of a Mulready and 1d black fiasco Sotheby's ran with, despite being advised it was utter nonsense, was a total flop and got no bids. Estimate was $A11 Million - :roll: :roll: :roll:


https://www.stampboards.com/viewtopic.php?t=97233


I was underbidder on this cool 'Lady Louis' Mulready piece last month, which sold for £55,000 plus 23%. A very pretty thing in my view. It always greatly appealed to me visually

Feldman's stuffed up my bidder registration (again) so needed to do it via SAN in advance, and actually wanted to bid live - and probably would have gone a bit higher if I were on live bidding. Assumed in advance it would easily hit 6 figures, and unless you are watching live, one has no idea on such things.

It sold for about $US750,000 (near £600,000 today!) last time I saw it, 16 years back, so some vendor got totally screwed on this sale. :roll:

Offered intelligently, this is a £100,000-£150,000++++ piece, all day long today.

https://www.glenstephens.com/snaugust07.html

Lazy description - the 3 x 3d blue were all part of a vertical strip 3 of course, but not mentioned etc.


1841 (Jan 9) 1d Mulready envelope, stereo A151, sent from Bristol to Lady Louis in Malta and uprated with five 1840 1d black pl.5 (strip of 4 and single) and three 2d blue pl.1, mostly with clear margins, tied by orange MCs, with “No.17” hs adjacent and despatch bs, two stamps repaired and the address panel slightly toned, a highly attractive and rare combination franking of the 1d black and 2d blue.

Glen


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Re: 2 GB, May 2 1840 Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by CMJ »

Global Admin wrote: 13 Jan 2024 21:58 Does it have ANY kind of Certificate, does anyone know?
It used to, at least when it was sold by Robson Lowe in 1960; so a very old one.

It was a BPA cert stating that it is genuine but defective and with the opinion that the original postage was paid by the handstruck "1", i.e. pre-paid by 1d in cash NOT by the Penny Black.

It isn't mentioned in the 1989 sale so I assume it got separated from the cover by then. No mention of a recent cert by Sotheby's in their write up, so I would conclude there isn't a more recent one either.
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by blue-within-blue »


Looking back to the early posts on this now merged thread, we see :

"Number 38: $404,800 for a Penny Black mailed on May 1, 1840 and correctly treated as invalid for postage. David Feldman, Geneva, Switzerland, February 17, 1999".

If correct, that would have made the current cover only the second usage ; but it appears to be wrong. The only matching item in the Feldman archive for that sale is a Mulready with NO stamp attached, again turned inside out and used twice. The estimate was 150,000 Swiss francs, but they don't have a list of prices realised :
Capture - Mulready 1st May 1.JPG
Capture - Mulready 1st May 2.JPG
If anyone wants to browse the catalogue pdf, or just the "stamp porn" coloured photos at the start, here's a link. It's a cracker of a sale, including an Inverted Jenny, part of an Inverted Swan / frame within a strip of 3 stamps used on piece, and the unique block of six earliest Post Paid Mauritius :

https://www.davidfeldman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/33_2_99_FEB.pdf

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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by CMJ »

Rob,

There was also a second sale on the same day with just one lot in it. This is the "No 38" refered to in Linns' list.
Feldman - The First Cover<br />17 February 1999
Feldman - The First Cover
17 February 1999
https://www.davidfeldman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/33_6_99_FEB.pdf


Edit: The 1 May 1840 turned Mulready above, realised 100,000 SF (about £40,000).

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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by blue-within-blue »


Oops - my mistake. So that seems to mean the current Sotheby's cover is indeed the SECOND usage, not the first as claimed. Or have I overlooked some subtlety in the two descriptions?

The Sotheby's condition report does - slightly - mention the restoration :
"Letter-sheet with vertical file folds, toned and with notable separations along fold lines sensibly reinforced."

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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by yellowduck »

Here we go again, with another Penny Black item from Sotheby's. :roll:

And their auction, The One, has no theme except "these are all expensive or special things". Religious items, furniture, a group of shoes...
Missing from Sotheby's provenance is a sale at Habsburg, Feldman in Geneva on 27 November 1989. ... It realised 170,000 SF (estimated to be about £68,000 at the time)
At the Harmer sale in March 1991, it set a world record price for a philatelic item when it realised 3,400,000 SF (£1,350,000) as reported in Gibbons Stamp Monthly (June 1991)

That was a huge profit for someone in a short time. :shock:
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by OldDuffer1 »

CMJ wrote: 14 Jan 2024 01:57 Rob,

There was also a second sale on the same day with just one lot in it. This is the "No 38" refered to in Linns' list.
Image
https://www.davidfeldman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/33_6_99_FEB.pdf


Edit: The 1 May 1840 turned Mulready above, realised 100,000 SF (about £40,000).

An Edinburgh MX? Presumably treated as not yet valid?
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by CMJ »

OldDuffer1 wrote: 22 Jan 2024 22:53 An Edinburgh MX? Presumably treated as not yet valid?
A London MX, I'm afraid. Yes, the stamp was treated as not valid and charged 2d postage due on delivery (2 manuscript in black).

According to the literature, the letter starts
Andrew Smith wrote:London 1st May 1840

My Dear Wife

I recd. your letter yesterday letting me know of the happy termination of the Failford Courtship...
The writer of the letter was Andrew Smith who co-invented the form of Victorian souvenir known as Mauchline ware.
715dQbddhzL._SL1154_.jpg
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by yellowduck »

Sotheby's has an article on their website about the Penny Black item

https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/how-a-single-postage-stamp-birthed-the-information-age
How a Single Postage Stamp Birthed the Information Age

BY CHRISTIAN HOUSE | JAN 26, 2024

A charming and significant piece of post has just arrived at Sotheby’s. The 2nd May 1840 Penny Black Cover – recognized as the very first postage stamp delivered in Great Britain – marks the birth, nearly two centuries ago, of modern communication. Now, in a landmark sale in New York, it will be offered in The One auction on 2 February 2024.

Before the introduction of stamps, the recipient of a letter was required to pay for post in cash on the doorstep. “There was only one type of prepaid mail and that was if you were a Member of Parliament,” explains Bob Scott, Sotheby’s stamps consultant. “Or even a friend of a Member of Parliament, because [the privilege] was abused so badly.”

Following a campaign by a coalition of merchants and politicians, Parliament passed the Postage Reform Act of 1839 and – at the suggestion of a Birmingham school teacher and social reformer named Rowland Hill – the introduction the following year of a pre-paid postal system. Pasted on the back with gum arabic, the lick-and-stick Penny Black – featuring the profile of a young Queen Victoria – was a revolution in popular and affordable communication, as profound as the first electrical telegraph or the first email.

The May 2 Penny Black was mailed by an unknown hand from London, stuck to the reversed inside of another innovation, a pre-paid sheet designed by the Irish painter William Mulready – illustrated with winged messengers being despatched by Britannia – that could act as a ready-to-send envelope. Both the Penny Black and the ‘Penny Mulready’ were only officially valid from May 6 1840, meaning that the May 2 Penny Black unaccountably entered the postal system four days early. It should not officially exist.

The recipient of this premature double curiosity was William Blenkinsop, the manager of an iron works in Bedlington in the North of England. On receipt, William read the letter inside and promptly turned the prepaid envelope sheet inside out and sent it on to his father in Carlisle. The motivation for the entire enterprise is lost to time. But clues have emerged. “When I started working on this, most of the information that was known was about the cover. But nothing was known about the family, so I dug up the Blenkinsops and I found out who they were. Because there was a story going round that it was sent to a guy who’d been dead for nine years and that’s why it was forwarded. Rubbish.”

Scott believes the initial sender was William’s brother, John, who lived in Southern England. “I have a sneaking suspicion that they might have known a clerk in the post office because they weren’t supposed to accept the stamps until the 6 May,” says Scott. The mischievous combination of stamp and envelope hints at the whimsical character of the Blenkinsop family. “One imagines what was in the letter: ‘Here’s one of the new stamps and one of the illustrated envelopes, what I want you to do is turn it inside out and send it across to dad’.”

The Blenkinsops could be viewed as the Victorian predecessors of today’s technophiles who stand outside Apple stores at dawn waiting to pounce on the latest iPhone. “It’s exactly that,” Scott agrees. “It’s queuing up for the January sales.”

Potential buyers for this unique piece of postal history might include prominent philatelists or collectors of momentous items from the timeline of human correspondence, notes Ella Hall, Sotheby’s specialist in charge of the sale. “We feel strongly that it has an important position in this chronology of the modernisation of communication and how exponentially easier it has gotten over time to connect with family, friends, business associates and loved ones.”

The arrival of postage stamps coincided with other social changes which, collectively, altered the way the public connected with one another. “The enormous rise in the volume of mail could not be put down to simply an increase in commerce,” says Scott. “Better wages and higher literacy rates certainly provided the means for greater personal correspondence. It was, however, the establishment of the working week and the creation of ‘leisure’ time that provided the general population with the opportunity to read and write.”

Today, in the era of digital communication, the future of stamps is uncertain. We are more likely to stick one on an Etsy parcel than a love letter. And at the time of writing, Britain is wrestling with the prospect of its postal service permanently cutting deliveries to just three days a week. So, is it feasible then that Sotheby’s might one day be selling the last stamp ever sent? “With time, I think yes, probably,” says Ella Hall. Or, she adds, perhaps stamps will retain the tactile vintage appeal of vinyl records and be used by a few dedicated hipster philatelists.

Scott is pragmatic. “We’re probably no more than a couple of decades away from the phasing out of stamps in some countries. You can pre-pay everything with your phone now if you want to. So why would you bother with funny little labels?” Of course, he reflects, the Blenkinsops’ “funny little label” celebrates a decisive moment when “for the first time in history an entire nation of over eight million people, more than half of whom were literate, could now correspond, exchange ideas, forward news, and ask questions – for the price of a penny.”
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by blue-within-blue »


Having done some further research on the items & scans shown earlier in this thread, it seems clear that the recent article on Sotheby's website is incorrect to claim "The 2nd May 1840 Penny Black Cover (is) recognized as the very first postage stamp delivered in Great Britain ". The author is not a philatelist but a jobbing writer, who seems to have based his article only on the claims made by Sotheby's and the cover's owner.

The true first cover, sent on 1st May, is well-documented with multiple certificates, and was sold AS the first cover by one of the world's leading philatelic auctioneers, David Feldman. Sotheby's seem to have ignored the extensive research and multiple certificates which were all documented in that auction catalogue, and still viewable here :

https://www.davidfeldman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/33_6_99_FEB.pdf

In comparison, Sotheby's seem to have done no research - certainly there is none mentioned in their catalogue. More worrying, there is also no mention of the BPA certificate, which seems to have mysteriously disappeared. That is significant, because it recorded their opinion that ""..the original postage was paid by the handstruck 1". - meaning that on this cover, like the 1st May cover, the stamp was not accepted as valid prepayment. The BPA certificate was present when Robson Lowe auctioned the 2nd May cover in 1960, as recorded in Mike Jackson's book entry for this cover.

Mr Jackson's book text goes on to say :
"... the red handstruck "1" is what you would expect if the cover was pre-paid in cash. The Mulready side has a MS (manuscript) "1", also suggesting a cash prepayment of a penny. We will never know for sure but the original sender probably spent 3 1/4 pence (although still not expensive by pre- penny post standards) ; a penny farthing for the Mulready, another penny for the adhesive, and a penny in cash to send the letter".

That opinion was also held by Gibbons when they showed this cover in Gibbons Stamp Monthly, scanned earlier in this thread. They say "on neither occasion was the 'stamp' accepted as prepayment".

In conflict with all of the above evidence, Sotheby's are now describing their item as "recognized as the first piece of mail sent using a postage stamp." Recognised by whom? The owner?

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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by Global Admin »

After that Holyoake spiv offering the last dodgy overhyped and unresearched thing that was unsold at 10 times its real value, of the alleged 'First Printed' 1d Black, you'd THINK Sotheby's would have learned to do some very basic research.

Clearly not. They are chancers who clearly know nothing about stamps, and are hoping some Arab Sheik will decide to buy this on impulse and not a vintage Ferrari etc. :roll:
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by blue-within-blue »


I alerted senior people at Sotheby's US and UK divisions about their potentially misleading description, but to no effect. The auction is going live in a few hours today, with the catalogue still claiming that "this remarkable survivor is recognized as the first piece of mail sent using a postage stamp."

Sotheby's ignorance about these matters is shown by their illustration accompanying a summary of the introduction of the penny black and two pence blue stamps in May 1840 - with the wrong two pence stamp shown :
Capture - sothebys wrong photo.JPG
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by GB1840 »

Unsurprisingly, like the so called 'first penny black' it went unsold.

Sotheby's seem to have made the same mistake by trying to off load a very nice but poorly described item and with it over estimated to target it seems a rich non-philatelist in a specialist non philatelic auction.
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by blue-within-blue »


I tried to find a Youtube video to see whether the auctioneer again took imaginary bids from the floor to get them up to one increment below the reserve (as they did with the Alan Holyoak sale), but I can't find one.

This lot did sell. And people say that the prices we pay for rare stamps are crazy ... All single shoes, so not even a pair that you could wear!
Capture - sneakers.JPG
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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

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Re: GB, 'May 2 1840' Penny Black for sale at Sotheby's, on 2 Feb 2024

Post by Global Admin »

GB1840 wrote: 03 Feb 2024 03:16 Unsurprisingly, like the so called 'first penny black' it went unsold.

Sotheby's seem to have made the same mistake by trying to off load a very nice but poorly described item and with it overestimated, to target it seems a rich non-philatelist in a specialist non-philatelic auction.

Who would use Sotherby's to sell stamps? They keep proving they are totally clueless and misleading. :roll: :roll: :roll:
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