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Glen Stephens
Monthly "Stamp News" Market Tipster Column

September 2010





Europe's priciest stamp piece?

It seems hard to believe, but a block of 10 stamps printed in the last decade, is almost certainly the priciest Post-War stamp item from anywhere on earth.

Indeed it might well be the most valuable philatelic item from Europe for at least the past century -  nothing whatever comes to mind that would top it.

It is my confident prediction the sheetlet of 10 stamps shown nearby will sell at Auction for over a MILLION Australian dollars on October 16 in Berlin. 

The very conservative estimate is 500,000 Euro, and with the very hefty buyer fee added, and then the approximate x1.5 exchange rate, a million AUD invoice is easily foreseeable.

The story of this famous stamp began in 2001 when the German post office (Deutsche Post) decided to issue a set of semi-postal stamps featuring movie stars, including Audrey Hepburn.

They were to be issued in panes of 10 – the usual format in Germany. Some 14 million Hepburn stamps were printed.


Family objected



At the last minute, one of Hepburn’s two sons, Sean Ferrer objected to the stamp design, and refused to grant copyright approval.

Deutsche Post had strangely not sought family permission to use her image it seems. 

Ferrer is an active campaigner against alcohol and tobacco addiction and abuse.

It appears the first he knew of the impending issue, was when Deutsche Post mailed him a single mint stamp, and a pane showing their next issue.


 A million dollar plus block?



That pane of 10 is what is now for sale.  All proceeds to UNICEF – Hepburn’s favourite charity.  

Audrey Hepburn died of cancer in 1993.  The stamp design as you can see, shows her smoking a cigarette, taken from the famous "Breakfast At Tiffany's" movie. 

 A 37¢ Hepburn stamp (without cigarette) was issued without incident in June 2003 by the USA by way of comparison, with family approval.

Ferrer refused to approve the issue.  The German post office ordered that all the 14 million Audrey Hepburn stamps be destroyed.  The issue was re-designed and eventually released October 11, 2001.

Three panes of 10 stamps each had already been sent to the German Ministry of Finance, but it is believed that they were not returned and not destroyed. 

The whereabouts of all these 30 stamps today is not known.  One can only assume some staffer simply used them on domestic mail not realising they were in any way scarce.


Five used copies surface


Five USED copies of the Hepburn stamp have been discovered in kiloware in recent years.

No MINT copies have ever been known until this sheetlet was consigned to Auction by Sean Ferrer.  


Werner Duerrschmidt with his find


 In late 2004, three years after the supposed destruction of all copies, the first used example #1 of the Hepburn stamp was discovered.

Finder was Werner Duerrschmidt, a stamp collector and mailman in Bavaria, a German state. 

He found the 110+50 pfennig stamp in a mixture of used on-paper “Kiloware” stamps sent to him by friends.

The stamp was cancelled ‘Briefzentrum 12’ (Berlin-Southeast in Schönefeld) dated 14 October 2003 at 10 p.m.

On 6 October 2006, Felzmann of Dusseldorf auctioned the stamp for invoice price Euro 53,000 on an estimate 25,000 Euro.

Prior to this, an Austrian national had claimed he owned the stamp and it had been stolen from him, causing the auction to be postponed. The lawsuit was later dismissed by Hof District Court.

The stamp became quite a media hit, and dealer and collector bodies reported the widespread mainstream press has proven very positive for philately in Germany. 

After the national media circus that this initial find predicated, another copy was found, postmarked Berlin November 2, 2003.

This example #2 was discovered by a collector in Frankfurt au Main.  It was found among stamp clippings he received from the incoming mail of a company in Wolfsburg, Germany.

The Hepburn sales begin



Stamp #2 was invoiced for Euro 69,437.60 (then approximately $A112,000) when it was auctioned June 1, 2005 by Heinrich Kohler in Wiesbaden, Germany. 

That stamp was on the front cover of the August 2005 "Stamp News".

The €20,000 estimate proved super conservative.  I emailed the Auction firm and Dieter Michelson told me: “final invoice price for the stamp was 69.437,60 Euro, which includes a 17% commission and 16% VAT on the commission.”


Price went UP not down!


A third used stamp discovered SHOULD have meant the price of all three went down, not up, as each new discovery lessens the potential value of all copies - that is the conventional thinking.

Wrong.  Another copy of this 110+50 pfennig German stamp was later discovered in kiloware and sold for over DOUBLE the June 2005 price! 

The cancel was “Kleinmachnow” a suburb about 20 Km south west of Berlin, dated February 11, 2004.

As television cameras recorded the occasion, this #3 example of Germany’s unissued Audrey Hepburn stamp was hammered down October 7, 2005 for 135,000 Euros.



 $A272,000 auction price


With commissions and taxes, the buyer paid a total of 169,000 Euro (then $A272,000).  This realisation easily breaks the price record for a post-war German stamp. 

Indeed at the time it was easily a price record for ANY single stamp or even multiple issued anywhere post-war I’d guess.

As a data point, my column recently reported the highest auction price for ANY British Commonwealth QE2 era stamp was achieved this year – and was “only” about $A75,000 for a Cyprus 1960 used 30 mil.


Sold in Dusseldorf


That Hepburn stamp #3, was the star lot in Ulrich Felzmann’s 111th auction held October 5-8 in Dusseldorf, Germany. 

Felzmann is not to be confused with the similarly named David Feldman Auctions in Switzerland, who also sells many rare pieces.

The stamp was purchased by Gaby Bennewirtz, acting on behalf of her husband Gerd Bennewirtz, an investment manager and stamp collector - also living in the Dusseldorf area.


The pick of the 5 used copies.


Gaby Bennewirtz later told the German press: “he would actually have been willing to pay a bit more.”

It is the most attractive of all the copies, and being on piece with the corner sheet margins, and with a superb dated cancel, is as good a copy as you could ever hope for!

Hence the massive price I imagine. Germans will always pay top money for top quality.


“I’d have paid more”



Shown nearby is winning bidder Gaby Bennewirtz holding the now famous $A272,000 stamp.

That example of the unissued Audrey Hepburn stamp #3 has part of the top left hand corner selvedge attached from the pane of 10. 

According to the lot description in the auction catalogue, the stamp was found in kiloware.  All over the world, such stamps are often sold unsorted by the kilogram as sourced by charities etc, hence the name. 


Great for Philately



On the day after the auction, the news of this record hammer price had been published in 122 German newspapers.  Great for stamps.

I have a very large business sideline selling such "kiloware" material I get from charities etc, as do many other dealers, and I sell over a ton weight a year:  

Collectors seem to love the fun of fossicking through it, and with a potential $270,000 “find” possible - little wonder.  All 5 copies found of this stamp came from kiloware.

So the May 9, 2009 copy #4 sale at 75,932 Euros - whilst a truly massive sum, is well down in Euros on the previous sale, but about 10% higher in Euros than copy #2 sold for. 


Auctioneer Ulrich Felzmann with his prize



The 67,000 Euros sale of copy #5, a fortnight later on May 26 was a whisker short of the price of copy #2, but lower than #4 obtained.

Proving once again that German collectors INSIST on dated cancels - the neat “corner CTO” type cancel on #5 would have delighted most Australian collectors!


Another kiloware find!



In late 2007 German metal worker Thomas Boche purchased a large box containing thousands of envelope clippings with stamps on them (i.e. “kiloware”) through ebay, and paid 55½ Euros.

When Boche looked through the box he found a number of stamps suitable for his collection, and a German stamp with an Audrey Hepburn design which he did not recognise.

In the beginning he did not pay much attention to this unusual find. 

Only months later did he search for the unidentified Hepburn stamp on the internet, and found newspaper articles mentioning a record sale price for it in 2006.

Boche contacted the auctioneer of the previous Hepburn discovery, Ulrich Felzmann of Dusseldorf.  Boche lived nearby and made an appointment for the next day. 

Felzmann’s offered his stamp (now called copy #4) illustrated nearby, at the “IBRA” Essen auction on May 9, 2009 where it sold for 75,932 Euros ($A132,122) when taxes and buyer fees were added.  

The stamp bears a cancel from the “Briefzentrum 13” (Berlin-North in Hennigsdorf) sorting centre


 Copy #5 auctioned 2 weeks later



By remarkable co-incidence a fortnight later on May 26, 2009, Berlin auctioneers Schlegels offered yet another example – copy #5.  It sold in the room to an agent for 53,500 Euros. 

After commission and sales tax etc was added, the invoice price was 67,000 Euros - or approx $A116,583 at the time. 


Auctioneer Elisabeth Schlegel and copy #5


That stamp has part of a double ring cancel in lower corner – proving once again Germans no NOT like undated cancels, and hence the $A15,500 lesser price than a fortnight earlier.


Germans LOVE dated cancels



Fetching 8,932 Euros (= then $A15,500) less than #4 when sold a fortnight later in the same country, really goes to prove how important those dated cancels are.


$A132,122 kiloware find


As this only is the fifth copy discovered, I can only again urge all readers to CHECK your kiloware!

ALL copies offered of this stamp have sold for well over $A100,000 - indeed one fetched $A272,000.

That is MAJOR world rarity price level for any single stamp, even for the imperforate “Classics”.

The legendary 1854 Western Australia 4d “Inverted Swan” often attains lesser price levels than these.

Indeed, this is the only “Inverted Jenny” of our stamp lifetime, and I have followed this story keenly from day #1, and have done about 100 hours of research on it.

This article is in fact the ONLY place that all copies are recorded and outlined in detail I believe.


Sheet for sale October 16



And now the Schlegel Auction house who offered used copy #5, will auction the entire mint sheet of 10 on October 16 in Berlin.

Hepburn’s son, Sean Ferrer - shown nearby at rear, unveiling the 2003 USA stamp, says he is donating all the proceeds of the sale to UNICEF.

He still has the single mint copy, that he has indicated the family may retain.

I personally would give NOTHING to this auction. Try googling them - they essentially do not exist! Even when using

Schlegel Berlin are the “Mary Celeste” stamp auction house on the web - inexcuseable in 2010

When I did eventually find them, my enquiries to them were akin to talking to a brick wall. Hopeless. How do these outfits stay in business?


USA 37c stamp issued without a hitch



I have no idea of German tax law, but it may well be a well heeled person could pay say $A1m, and donate it to an institution, and get a tax deduction for the “appraised amount” – as occurs so widely in the USA.

The “appraised” figure might be double or treble the auction price.  Coff.

Perhaps even the act of buying at a UNICEF charity auction allows a full tax donation to be taken there for a wealthy private collector?

In 1992, Hepburn was awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.


What will it sell for?



The “estimate” is a remarkably conservative 500,000 Euro. What will it sell for?

WAY over $A1 million is my strong guess.

Probably a wealthy collector will buy it .... and if so, he will be bidding hard against a German dealer or two, who would want to buy it and break into 10 singles.

Given the quite idiotic prices that USA 1918 24¢ “Inverted Jenny’s” get – up to a million apiece, and there are near 100 sloshing around endlessly - this stamp is a REAL “rarity”.

Germany is a massive market, and selling ten singles at about $A200,000 each would not be too hard at all, doubling the outlay.

So I expect a genuine ding-dong auction battle on this one. Stay tuned!


New Gibbons “AUSTRALIA”



The backbone of the stamp collecting hobby are the Stanley Gibbons Catalogues.

Anyone using books like Scott or Michel for this part of the world is frankly just wasting their time!

The new 2010 “Australia” book is an absolute essential for anyone collecting or dealing in this region.

The Seven Seas Stamps “ASC” used to be the unassailable leader for this kind of catalogue.  Dominant, annual, accurate, and well laid out.

However they have adopted the cunning Mao and Stalin “Five Year Plan” tactic it seems, and grace us with a new edition once or twice a decade - so SG have wisely filled the gap!

This latest SG edition continues in the far more sensible and smaller B5 size format recently decided upon, and this book I use every day.


New Edition is over 300 colour pages



For folks who have not bought SG for a while, these new editions are now in full colour, on bright white paper. Superb.

It includes all the Colonial (“State”) issues, and all the stamps of the Commonwealth of Australia including the 1946 British Occupation Force (Japan) overprints. 

And all booklet issues – and dies, inverted watermarks, and major plate varieties etc. And prices for on-cover copies.

Then the Australian Antarctic Territory, Christmas Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Norfolk Island and the pre-independence Issues for Nauru (to 1968), New Guinea, Papua and Papua New Guinea, and GRI/NWPI etc.

Prices are extensively revised - with many significant increases since the 5th edition. 

How on earth editor Hugh Jefferies gets the vast swag of Catalogues out, AND “Gibbons Stamp Monthly” each month as well, is anyone’s guess.   

I looked up some GRI today and prices were up noticeably – in line with the market here.

They are reasonably priced at less than $A70 RRP, and all leading dealers stock them.

Australian agent MD Allan Pitt told me today - “sales of these increase issue by issue – SG really are on the ball for producing these annually.”

For over 300 full colour pages it represents excellent value in my view.  A “one stop” buy for local collectors.






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