2010 has been a fascinating year for philately. As with almost every area of collectibles, the emergence of the BRIC nation economies has changed the marketplace and seen prices skyrocket.
The Chinese market in particular has dominated, and collectors have focused their attentions on Chinese stamps. According to Asian stamp expert Dr Jeffrey Schneider, in China stamps are "regarded as important cultural icons and treasures, just like art," and in a manner which draws parallels with the Chinese art market, collectors and investors have been willing to break records in order to bring the best examples back to China.
However, not all the action has been in the Far East. The market in general has seen strong figures for serious collection-grade stamps, with Russian and British Commonwealth issues proving particularly strong.
The growth of the market in 2010 (after a relatively quiet 2009) has meant previously reticent sellers have started to offer more items on the market. The combination of this new willingness to sell with the boom in the markets of emerging economies should mean a very strong year in 2011.
But for now, as we pick through the leftover mince pies and Hoover up the pine needles, we thought we'd take a look back at our top five stamp sales of 2010.
5) At number five we have an item once described as "the most important piece in Russian Philately". The strip of five 1857 10k brown and blue, the first ever Russian adhesive stamp, is the largest known multiple of this issue.
Once part of the legendary Fabergé collection, each stamp in the horizontal strip is cancelled by a pen cross and features good colour and wide margins. It was the first and only imperforate stamp of the country, and this important philatelic gem sold at a Cherrystone auction on September 16 for $230,000.
4) At number four in our list we have probably the most famous error in American philately, the 1918 Inverted Jenny. Featuring an image of a Curtis JN-4 plane printed upside-down, only one pane of 100 stamps has ever been recorded.
It was purchased by stamp collector William T. Robey at a Washington D.C Post Office the day after their release, and all known examples of the stamp have originated from this sheet. One of the most sought-after stamps in existence, an example appeared on the market in December this year and beat its estimate to sell for $300,000.
3) Number three is one of China's rarest stamps, and a World Record breaker. The 1897 Three Cents Red Revenue stamp was originally a general payment stamp, not exclusively for postage, until 1897 when it was co-opted for use in the brand new postal system.
50 examples are known to exist, with only 32 of these accounted for, and an example sold in September 2009 for $331,000, a then-record price for a single Chinese stamp. However, in February this year that record was shattered when another of the stamps appeared at auction. After furious bidding it eventually sold for $710,600 setting a record and demonstrating the strength of the Chinese stamp market.
2) At number two is another of China's philatelic treasures, and ironically features a leader who sought to ban stamp collecting, seeing it as a bourgeois pursuit. The corner block of four stamps, featuring Chairman Mao and Lin Biao celebrating the victory of the Cultural Revolution, was the only known imprint block of this issue.
Printed on pristine white paper and featuring unblemished original gum, the stamps had been prepared for use but never issued. Their rarity and superb condition, combined with their subject matter, saw the block sell for $858,700 to become the most expensive philatelic item from the People's Republic ever sold.
1) But the top spot on our list goes to the rarest and most valuable stamp in existence and a true one-of-a-kind: the Treskilling Yellow. The 1855 stamp, originally discovered by a Swiss schoolboy, is coloured yellow rather than its original turquoise due to a printing error.
The stamp is believed to be the only one in existence, and in 1996 it sold at auction for a World Record price of $2.3m. However, on May 22 in Geneva the stamp once again went under the hammer in a sale shrouded by secrecy. There were just two rival bidders, both anonymous, and in a matter of minutes the stamp had been sold for an undisclosed sum. The auctioneer David Feldman would only confirm that the stamp was still the record holder, but that no other details would be released.
So for now the true value of the stamp and the identity of its owner both remain a mystery, which in a way only adds to its legendary status.
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