A rather superb new book landed on my desk this week.
Printed in Sweden it is titled 'The Treskilling Yellow'. And is of course
centred around the famous Swedish stamp of that name. Supposedly 'The Most
Valuable Thing In The World'.
It is a very heavy hardbound book with a large, square page size, and weighs in
at 1.5 Kgs or over 3 pounds. Heavy grade gloss paper and 185 pages make this the
ultimate coffee table book for any stamp collector or dealer.
My 'December' column had a detailed article on this famous Swedish stamp and its
rather controversial history.
Right now, based on the last auction price, the unique 1857 'Tre Skilling Banco'
Swedish stamp illustrated nearby gets the prize for the most valuable item on
earth for its weight and size.
The mass, volume and density of this Swedish 'Tre Skilling Banco' classic have
recently been measured for the first time by The Swedish National Testing and
Research Institute in Borås, Sweden.
The weight has been measured to 0.02675 grams (0.0009 ounces), which gives the
stamp the staggering price of $US85.98 billion per kilogram. (I had a client who
is a Math Professor in Illinois check my figure, and he agrees it is correct!)
This makes the stamp the most valuable thing in the world per weight or volume -
as far as I am aware.
It was last auctioned at a David Feldman Zurich auction November 1996 to a
dealer in Sweden for a sum of Swiss Francs 2.87 million. (Approx $US2.3 million
at that time)
This realisation is listed in the 'Guinness Book Of Records'.
The stamp was discovered in late 1885 by fourteen year-old schoolboy Georg
Wilhelm Backman. The stamp is in the same colour and on the same paper that the
8 skilling should have been on. The usual 3 skilling stamps were in green.
Ferrary the Legend
Later ownership of the stamp has been very interesting, and often controversial
and mysterious. Best known custodian was the world's most famous collector - Baron Philipp la Rénotière von Ferrary. (Referred to from here on
as simply 'Ferrary'!)
German stamp dealer Sigmund Friedl made the sale to Ferrary in 1894 for 4,000
gulden - then the equivalent of about $US3,000.
Ferrary died in Lausanne on May 30, 1917 whilst WW1 was still raging. On his
death it was discovered he was a citizen of France, Germany, Austria and
Switzerland. Ferrary clearly willed his stamp collection to the German Reich to
be displayed in the National Postal Museum in Berlin. His will is illustrated in
this new book, and says: 'I leave (it) with pride and joy to my German
The French had other ideas. They effectively confiscated the collection, and
sealed off the Paris apartment it was housed in. After the Treaty of Versailles,
the French offered to sell it to the Germans for the 5 million francs
inheritance taxes owed, plus another million franc 'export fee'.
As both the Museum and German state were broke, they had no option but to
decline, The Swiss also made a convoluted claim for 13% in taxes, but were
The French then offered the world's largest stamp collection for Auction in 14
sales between 1922 and 1926. A pre-sale offer of 9 million francs from an
American collector for the lot was refused. Wisely, as the auctions realised 22
Swedish Baron Eric Leijonhufyud nearly missed the sale but took the then great
luxury of a last minute aeroplane trip from Britain, and arrived by a frantic
dash by taxi at the Paris Hôtel Drouot venue just as the stamp was being
He purchased the stamp for either 30,000 or 35,250 French francs, depending on
which source you read, outbidding a consortium of Swedish collectors who had
raised funds to hopefully buy it for the Stockholm Postal Museum.
Curiously Leijonhufyud only kept the stamp for a year. In 1923 he asked stamp
dealers Lichtenstein to sell the stamp.
Baron Claës A. Tamm was the buyer - a nobleman, country squire, Stockholm
engineer and renowned collector, who was devoted to assembling a complete
collection of Sweden. Purchase price was about £1,500 - then about $US10,000.
The acquisition made his collection complete. In 1928 the Baron sold the stamp
to a Swedish lawyer Johan Ramberg for 37,000 Krona. (Then about £2,000 or
Ramberg traced down the original finder Backman, by then a 60 years old
Lieutenant Colonel in the Swedish Army. Bachman gave a detailed sworn affidavit
to a Borås Magistrates court in September 9 1931, outlining his discovery and
sale of the stamp in 1885, forty years earlier.
Bachman was still bitter the 7 Kronor paid to him as a lad had mushroomed into
the 37,000 Krona that Ramberg paid. However he was able to have added to the
court records proof that the stamp had been cancelled beyond doubt in 1857 - not
readily evident from the 'July 18' part cancel.
This was crucial information, as later students proved a small emergency supply
of 8 Skilling stamp was sent to that Post Office and only a few others in 1857,
and this error was presumably among them
King Carol Of Romania
In 1937, the stamp changed hands again and the fame of the error really began
to blossom. It was sold by the London auction firm of H.R. Harmer to King Carol
II of Romania ('The Playboy King') for 5,000 pounds - or then better than
$US30,000. That made it the second highest price paid for a stamp - eclipsed
only by the 1856 1¢ British Guiana.
King Carol left Romania soon after in 1940 for exile - in a train laden with
Royal treasure. The train contained paintings by Old Masters such as Titian,
Rubens, and Rembrandt. Reportedly hundreds of canvases, jewels, and even the
armour that had decorated the walls of the royal palaces of Pelişor and Peleş.
And of course his prized stamp collection - at the time one of the most famous
and most valuable in the world.
A death squad of the Romanian fascist party Iron Guard legionnaires (partly
financed by the Nazis) fired fiercely on the Royal train near the Yugoslavian
border, but failed to stop it. The King and his mistress lay on the floor and
escaped injury from the bullets.
The 'Tre Skilling Banco' changed hands again around 1950 when it was privately
sold by Harmers on behalf of the King to Belgian property magnate René Berlingen
for an unknown figure. The dishevelled looking Berlingen had a passion for
owning rare philatelic gems.
Berlingen allowed his treasure to be exhibited at 'Stockholmia 55', the first
time it had been on view in Sweden since before the war.
The stamp was exhibited by Stanley Gibbons at their stand at 'Anphilex 71' in
New York - who tried to sell it for Berlingen, but no-one would pay the steep
$US500,000 price he reportedly wanted.
Current UK dealer identity Steven Kander was to be sent the stamp to sell. A
pretty young woman asked for him at the famous Gibbons 399 Strand shop, and he
ushered her into a client room. Kander claims: 'she lifted up her dress and
underneath there was an old-fashioned petticoat into which was sewn on the
inside, a special pocket." From this she produced the 'Tre Skilling Banco' .
In 1974 it was exhibited at the stand of Frimarkshuset A.B. the well known
Swedish dealers at 'Stockholmia 74'.
The stamp was then offered to the Swedish Postal Museum for $US1,000,000. The
curator Gilbert Svensson had always suspected it to be a forgery, and arranged
for it to be handed over to a group of nine Swedish stamp experts to examine.
The experts concluded it was a fake - possibly a fake of the original stamp,
that some of them also thought was a fake anyway!
After all these damning reports, owner Berlingen and Frimarkshuset A.B. then
paid for a very detailed scientific and X-Ray report in 1975, by a Professor of
Medial Biophysics, on the paper and ink etc, which pointed they claim, to the
stamp being a genuine colour error.
Berlingen never got any money from the later sale - he incurred financial
problems, and the stamp became part of a bank guarantee.
The price rise begins
In October 1978 it was auctioned by Edgar Mohrmann in Hamburg Germany
for a price of 1,150,000 DM including buyer commission. They recently confirmed
this for me by email. (David Feldman claims in his 1996 Sale Catalogue it was
'withdrawn' at 1,000,000 Dm in that sale.) I am not sure which version is
Later the Swiss auction house David Feldman sold it in 1984 in Zurich for
977,500 Swiss Francs, then nearly $US500,000, to an elderly collector of
Scandinavia, known even today only as 'Mr C'.
The new book states many philatelists (including Sven-Olof Karlsson) claim the
real buyer was Swedish multi-millionaire Ingvar Pettersson, known as 'Glas-Pelle'.
This man took the stamp in person to and from the 'Stockholmia 86' Exhibition in
a briefcase. That man handed over the written bid at the auction but Feldman
claims he simply represented 'Mr C'.
Interestingly, the new book simply shows the 'owner' from 1984 as Ingvar
Pettersson in one table and as the 'buyer' in another. A Swiss bank was now the
vendor - as Berlingen owed them money.
Feldman later sold it to Swedish businessman Sven-Olof Karlsson on May 19, 1990
for SFr 1,897,500 - a figure then over $US1 million. (Then a world record for a
stamp off cover.) Feldman had agreed Karlsson could pay 25% down if he was
successful and then work out a payment plan of the balance. Karlsson claims the
other 75% was to be given in rare stamps to be auctioned, but Feldman disputes
Feldman cancelled later 1990 and his first 1991 sales due to the soft stamp
market, and only in the latter sale of 1991 did Karlsson's stamps get offered.
They did not bring enough to pay the balance on 'The Treskilling Yellow'
account, and worse still a Swedish collector who bid on some of them could also
'The reputation of Swedish Collectors started to look bad' Feldman sighed, in
one great quote from this book. Who'd be an auctioneer?!
The 1990 vendor was stated to be the estate of 'Mr C' the probable buyer from
1984, who had since passed away.
SOLD for 2.87 million CHF!
However, when Karlsson failed to complete this purchase he was taken to court
in Sweden by Feldman (and was later made bankrupt it seems) and so the item was
again auctioned by Feldman (for the third time) on November 8, 1996.
The re-perforating along the top and un-sealed slit/tear at side are now
mentioned in the sale catalogue, which rather incredibly, were not mentioned in
the 1990 auction. The auction was solely for this one stamp, backed by a deluxe
hard-backed catalogue outlining the provenance and history.
The photo nearby shows Feldman hammering down the rarity in Zurich in 1996,
which is held up in its plexiglass container by the attractive Claudia Sapper-Marchart
from his company.
The 'Tre Skilling Banco' sold at auction for a world record Swiss Francs 2.87
million ($US2.3 million) to Hans Lernestål , a Swedish dealer. Lernestål tried
to assemble a syndicate of public investors to buy shares in it at about
$US3,292 a share under the umbrella name of 'The Box Economie Sverige'. By June
30, 1997 Lernestål had not sold all the shares, and he defaulted on the
The Penniless Swedes!
David Feldman says in this new book: 'It's simple - I came up against three
buyers in a row, all of them Swedes, who did not have the funds to redeem the
stamps they'd purchased at our Auctions.'
The 1996 Catalogue for this one stamps (condition 4.4) clearly says accounts not
paid after 30 days will incur: 'at least 18% interest rate, plus all expenses
incurred', so someone, somewhere, was liable for annual interest of 'at least'
516,000 Swiss francs. Ouch!
The 'Tre Skilling Banco' then appears to have been sold again privately on June
23 late 1998, with Copenhagen dealer Thomas Hoiland being press spokesman for
the new owner(s), who appear to still own the stamp. In my view and others, this
sale was for less in Swiss Francs than for which it was auctioned in 1996.
David Feldman recently queried by email why I had stated this in my December
article. I appraised him in some detail my reputable sources, which have been
published globally in the past years.
More than a week prior to submitting this column I asked David Feldman by email
to simply confirm if the stamp sale price he received in June 1998 was more or
less than the 2.87 million Swiss francs auction figure from 1996, and he did not
respond. Draw your own conclusions.
It is not an especially pretty stamp, and debate has raged for 120 years as to
whether it is genuine or not. The matter has never been completely settled -
some experts consider it simply a colour 'changeling', many have branded it an
outright fake, but a body of evidence points to it being genuine. I believe it
Even the Swedish king, Carl Gustav XVI said: “Doesn’t it look rather shabby?”
when he saw it at the International stamp fair in Stockholm during 1986.
The name from the unpaid 1996 purchase - Hans Lernestål - appears to be a main
man behind the new company as 'CEO, Stamp Collection AG' and is also given as
the 'Press Contact'.
The new book has a favourable page on him, and calls him 'President' of the
company. There is a photo of the 'Chairman of The Board' of this management
company for the stamp's image based in Zurich.
Seems like a large bunch of folks to be basically connected with the marketing
of the name of a stamp over many years! Lernestål has apparently spent the last
9 years representing this stamp and it's image, and trade marked the names 'The TreSkilling Yellow' and 'The Most Valuable Thing In The World'.
South American owner?
My personal view is that several entities and/or individuals
currently have a beneficial financial interest in this stamp, other than the
'rich elderly South American' we are told owns it.
I have no hard proof, so it remains a personal opinion, but IF I am correct, all
or some of the names Lernestål, Frey, Feldman and Høiland being involved in
ownership would not surprise me at all! If they are, good on them.
1998 - sold at last!
Illustrated above is David Feldman (left) handing over 'The TreSkilling Yellow'
to Danish dealer Thomas Høiland in 1998 with champagnes all round!
David Feldman is quoted in the book as saying: 'I don't think that all these
years of media attention have damaged either me or the stamp. No publicity is
bad publicity' so I'll add to the media file.
I agree with him that such well known pieces getting record prices is good for
the hobby, and do hope he has another chance to auction it - and easily break
the 3 million francs mark! He is 'the man' for this stamp, and I am quite sure
will be the auctioneer 4 times running.
The stamp will reportedly be a feature exhibit at 'Washington 2006' and indeed
part of a world tour to 4 continents according to a front page report in 'Linns'
on March 24. And I am sure the new owners will be looking for publicity in that
year. The owner is allegedly 'a rich elderly South American' still living in
In a front page story in 'Linns' April 11 2005, the syndicate 'Chairman Of The
Board' Markus Frey mysteriously claimed the owner was: 'an individual of a
magnetic interest for the media'. He refused to say more.
The other major world rarity is curiously also owned by: 'an individual of a
magnetic interest for the media'. The 1856 1¢ magenta from British Guiana was
purchased in 1980 at a Robert. A. Siegel auction by Mr John E. duPont for
Mr duPont, the eccentric multi-millionaire connected to the US chemical fortune
was sentenced in 1997 to 40 years incarceration for murder (but whilst deemed to
be mentally ill, thus sparing him a life sentence) for the 1996 slaying of
Olympic wrestler David Schultz.
The exact present whereabouts of the 1¢ magenta is unknown - but is believed to
be in a bank vault in Philadelphia. When this stamp next comes on the market it
is anyone's guess as to its realisation. Mr duPont is now 65 years old and is
So the world focus will of course turn squarely on the 'Tre Skilling Banco'
until the British Guiana re-surfaces, which may be a long way off.
This book is a superb presentation, and great credit goes to those behind it. I
have worked in daily newspapers and a large Advertising agency, and have owned
and published large magazines so know more than a little about research and
source material - and printing and artwork and layout costs!
'The Treskilling Yellow' is a coffee table and library book totally above the
norm for this hobby. The English is flawless (it is also published in German,
French and Swedish) and the detail of the stamp's history is minute - except for
being rather 'rubbery' on events in recent years.
The superb photographic material in this book would have taken someone a year to
source. There are photos of all players in this stamp's life. Detailed chapters
on Baron Philipp la Rénotière von Ferrary, on King Carol II of Romania, and the
other most colourful owners.
All undispersed with stacks of original images relating directly to the story
and the players. It certainly is not inexpensive, from the publishers at 795
Swedish Krona ($A150) plus postage outside Europe of 230 SEK ($A44).
The publishers have used heavyweight archival grade paper for the book, and as
pointed out above it weighs in at an imposing 1.5Kg. The layout and graphics
inside really are top class.
Readers may order from the publishers, or I can offer it for $A150 post free for
anyone reading this, anywhere in the world.
If you like occasionally adding a very classy book to your library, you will
seldom find one of this high calibre. Bet your friends did not realise any stamp
was worth $US86 BILLION a kilogram?!
British Royal Wedding FDC's have wrong date!
One of the most unusual British FDC's of recent times was issued on April 8.
The Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles took place
Saturday April 9.
The wedding was originally slated for Friday April 8. Official first day covers
are postmarked 'Royal Wedding - 8 April 2005.'
The funeral of Pope John Paul II saw the Queen decide to send Prince
Charles to represent her and Britain at the funeral in Rome April 8. The
wedding date needed to be put back. Parker Bowles did not accompany Charles to
the Pope's funeral.
Royal biographer Robert Lacey told Reuters: 'Queen Elizabeth goes to very few
funerals. She tends to be represented by Prince Phillip, or Prince Charles.'
In very sharp contrast, President and First Lady Laura Bush led a heavyweight
delegation from the USA. Accompanying President Bush were his father, former
President George H.W. Bush, former President Bill Clinton, and Secretary of
State Condoleeza Rice.
Royal Mail were caught wrong footed by the very sudden decision in early April
to change the Royal Wedding date.
The new stamp issue had been printed and distributed nationally, ahead of the
originally Friday April 8 issue date.
The GB Mini Sheet
The stamp only comes in a miniature sheet of 4 format, and not in regular post
office sheets. Each sheetlet had the April 8 date printed along the base, in
both English and Welsh languages, as Charles is the Prince Of Wales.
The are two 68p stamps and two x 30p stamps in each sheet.
The official Royal Mail first day of issue postmark was even more
problematical. Wording on that said in large letters - "Royal
Wedding - 8 April 2005."
This was of course totally incorrect, as the Royal Wedding was held in fact
on April 9.
Britain's Royal Mail either had to re-print the sheets and re-make the first
day covers, or ride out the storm of confusion.
They chose the latter course.
In a rather feeble, and to me totally un-convincing email sent to large UK
stamp dealers on April 5 Royal Mail said in part:
'The issue date will remain the 8th April, and the first day of issue
cancellation bearing that date will be available until the 5th May 2005.'
'The product range bearing 8th April will not be amended to reflect the new
'As a mark of respect for the funeral of Pope John Paul II, Royal Mail has
asked Post Offices not to sell Royal Wedding products until the 9th April.'
All regular Royal Mail first day covers for this issue likely have the wrong
date for the Royal Wedding.
The death on April 6 of Prince Rainier of Monaco
added further pressures on schedules for the heads of state and dignitaries,
who also wished to attend his funeral, so close to the Pope's funeral and the
That funeral was the largest Royal event in the tiny Principality Of Monaco,
since Rainier's fairytale wedding to American movie star Grace Kelly in 1956.
Royal Mail had only a few days notice of the change of wedding date before
their planned stamp issue.
I phoned and asked British stamp specialist dealer James Skinner of B Alan
Stamps in Sevenoaks Kent if they had any option but to go ahead with what they
had on hand.
"No. These stamps were all printed by Enschede in the Netherlands. It
was virtually impossible to have a huge printer like that drop their current
work, and rush out a new Royal Mail printing with the correct date in a couple
of days" he replied.
"The new stamps then also needed to get across the channel from Holland in
a secure fashion, and into Post Offices nationally by Saturday April 9 -
clearly an impossible task" he continued.
Most (but not all) post offices in Britain open on Saturday mornings, so this
new set was by no means on sale nationally on day of issue - most unusual for a
major British commemorative. And conversely, despite Royal Mail's feeble press
release, many Post Offices DID sell them Friday April 8.
And some Postmasters did not hold on to their publicity flyers for the issue.
A Royal Mail quarto size new issue poster for the wrong 'April 8' issue date
sold on eBay for £122 (~$A300) on April 6.
An eBay 'Power Seller' named "canonmiser" based in Pontefract UK offered the
poster. An experienced ebay user based in the United States "h$hmystery" was the
buyer. That user buys lots of "Royalty" related philatelic material on eBay.
Seller added this note to the auction April 5: "JUST SO THERE'S NO CONFUSION
-THIS POSTER IS A4 SIZE WHICH IS 11½" BY 8½". IT SHOWS THE DATE AS 8TH APRIL
2005. THANKS HUGHIE."
Bidding started at 99p and there were 16 bids. The poster attracted 1364 eBay
page views. It is my view this poster will be very easy to obtain, as it was
sent to all the 15,000+ UK Post Offices, so the price paid was far too high.
The old phrase: "A fool and his money are soon parted" came immediately to mind
for some reason!
The nuptials were not popular with all residents of the UK. One newspaper report
I saw said: 'many Britons have vowed the special stamps will be stuck on
envelopes upside down in protest at the civil wedding.'
The Prince's decision to put the ceremony back a day was expected to double the
policing costs to £2 million due to police and officials overtime, rostering,
accommodation and catering issues etc.
The Royal Wedding was hit by several glitches from the outset. The venue had to
be switched from Windsor Castle to a town hall after a mix up over marriage
licenses. Constitutional experts also questioned the legality of a civil
Charles and Camilla initially planned to get married at Windsor Castle, but it
was not licensed for a civil wedding and the couple reluctantly chose a
decidedly more downscale town hall. Cost to hire - a few $100s.
Speculation later surfaced about whether the town hall wedding would be legal,
but the Registrar General dismissed a series of objections, and the government's
chief legal adviser finally decreed there were no further legal obstacles.
Queen Elizabeth refused to attend, as it was supposedly beneath the dignity of a
monarch to be present at a town hall wedding - even if it was of her first born
son, and heir to the throne. It all read like a bad Monty Python script.
Both Prince Charles and Parker Bowles during the wedding service acknowledged
the 'manifold sins and wickedness' of their previously adulterous relationship,
to add to the pathos.
Best selling UK T Shirt design
It was not just the Post Office that tore its hair out over the last
minute change of wedding date. Hawkers of the usual tacky array of Royal
Wedding memorabilia were stuck with vast quantities of wrong dated
T-Shirts, mugs, postcards, spoons and tea towels etc.
Best seller by far I hear was one of Prince Charles riding a horse whose
face and hairstyle had an uncanny resemblance to Camilla. At £15 each
THAT was a money spinner!
I asked British cover dealer Ian Billings of Norvic Philatelics what
collectors would mostly order from him - April 8, or April 9 dated 'First
Billings said: 'there was also a commemorative postmark (indeed several)
for 9th April. Covers with that
date would qualify as true 'first day of sale' which is something most
American and UK customers like. Many collectors will of course order both,
just to ensure they do not miss out! We have good stocks of both, and sales
have been brisk'
Falklands gets it RIGHT!
Whilst Great Britain may have goofed their own stamp issue for their next
King, one stamp issuing country was nimble enough to avoid the same pitfalls.
Tiny South Atlantic entity the Falkland Islands managed to issue their set of
2 stamps and a souvenir sheet with the correct April 9 date printed on each.
Very impressive seeing they had only 3 days notice!
I spoke to world agents for the Falkland Islands stamps and coins, Pobjoy
Mint division manager John Smith, days before the wedding. 'We not only
got the date on the stamps correct, but also their special Royal Wedding coin
issue had the correct date upon it'
'Indeed all four of our Pobjoy Mint coins for British Virgin Islands, Falkland
Islands, Sierra Leone and South Georgia have the correct date and we even had
one issued on the wedding day itself' Smith continued.
'And readers of "Stamp News" will I am sure be delighted with a special
gift Falkland Islands will give them in a month or so - a £2 mint miniature
sheet free of charge - watch this space!' he concluded.
The Falkland Island Royal Wedding set consists of a 24p and 50p stamp and a
£2 miniature sheet. And the designs were indeed complete several days before the
Wedding, and I had copies to forward to this magazine.
British bookmakers William Hill offered legal betting odds on what catastrophe
might next strike this apparently jinxed Royal Wedding. There was a feeling that
anything that COULD go wrong had gone wrong already - and more was yet to come!
They made their 25/1 odds favourite, the likelihood that Prince William would
lose the rings.
Hill also offered 33/1 odds that Camilla changed her mind and failed to turn up.
40/1 that Charles did likewise, 50/1 that Anton Barschak gatecrashed the wedding
and caused a major security alert and postponement, and 100/1 that the Queen
issued a last minute ultimatum threatening to disinherit Charles if the wedding
And the list went on and on. Odds were 10,000 to 1 that an alien spacecraft
would land outside the town hall during the ceremony.
The way this Royal Wedding had lurched from one kooky disaster to even bigger
disasters, I was VERY tempted to place a bet.
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