Forking out for a plate
IT does not look much, but this was the star of the first Stanley Gibbons’ J W Phillips sales held on 18 July 2023.
Usually a 1d red in such poor condition would not be worth a second look, or any money, but the estimate on this one was £70,000-£90,000 and the hammer price was £120,000. On top of that you have to add 20% commission and, if the new owner is liable for UK tax, another 20% on that 20%.
The secret to the excess is of course the plate number, in this case the near-mystical 77. Plate 77 was one of six rejected plates so there
should not be any stamps from the plate, indeed there are no stamps are known from the other rejected plates.
However some got out. There were ten known examples, three of which are now missing. Of the seven remaining, just three are in private hands. Well, that is if you do not count the trio on the
so called Victor Hugo cover which are shown here (left). The address on the cover was written by the French literary giant Victor Hugo.
Hugo was exiled for about 20 years. Among the places he lived during that period was Jersey from 1852-55 and, when expelled from there, Guernsey.
There is, to say the least, some debate as to whether the stamps on the Victor Hugo cover are genuine.
Some institutions have issued certificates saying they are but the Royal Philatelic Society, not for the first time, made a hash of things when asked for their opinion.
The cover was sent from Guernsey. The Plate 77 in Gibbons’ sale has a London cancellation but was discovered in 1906 by a Mr N V le Gallais. I know nothing about him, but that is a Channel Islands'
name, and he passed it on to G.E.J. Crallan who lived in Jersey so another Channel Islands connection. But the Channel Islands link maybe misleading. There are obviously differences
between the stamps on the Hugo cover and the one sold by Gibbons. The clearest being the centring – the Gibbons' stamp has the perforation going through the word ‘Postage’ whereas on the Hugo stamps the perfs are considerably higher, going thought the ‘One Penny’ of the stamp above them.
Another oddity about the perfs on Plate 77 is that for the stamps known from the top of the sheet they are well centred horizontally and not too bad vertically but when you go down the sheet, they are all over the place.
Difficulty in perforating the stamps is one of the reasons why plate 77 was rejected.
It is also perhaps peculiar that mint Plate 77s are all from the top of the sheet (lettered AB, AC, BA (right)) whereas the ones in the bottom part of the sheet (LL, MI and NC, PI (right)) are all used.
All in all, Gibbons must be very pleased with the outcome of the Phillips sale with very few unsolds and many items going for well over estimate.
Watching the auction on-line worked well -- for a while. A couple of lots were mixed up but that always seems to happen, but then the sound failed and immediately after the sale the Auction pages on Stanley Gibbons' website also failed so anyone looking for the results just saw an error message. An opportunity missed.