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postage stamp displaying a classic colour error. It holds the world's record auction sales price for a postage stamp and with a weight of 0.02675 grams and six-figure price it is thought to be the most valuable item by weight in the world, most recently rated at US$85.98 billion per kilogram1.
The Treskilling Yellow, or 3 skilling banco error of colour is a Swedish |
Sweden’s first stamps
Sweden’s earliest postage stamps were issued in 1855, 15 years after Britain had issued the first postage stamps: the Penny Black and Two Penny Blue. These were a set of five depicting the Swedish coat of arms, with denominations ranging from 3 to 24 skillings banco. The 3-skilling banco value was normally printed in a blue-green colour, while the 8-skilling was printed in a yellowish orange shade.
This stamp issue was continued for just three years, and from 1858 the skilling stamps were replaced by new stamps denominated in öre – the one-hundredth subdivisions of the Swedish krona currency unit.
The discovery of the error
It was only in 1886, when a young collector named Georg Wilhelm Backman was going through covers in his grandmother's attic that he came across one with a 3-skilling stamp, for which local dealer Heinrich Lichtenstein was offering 7 kronor apiece. He asked the dealer if he would still pay 7 kronor even though the stamp was the wrong colour, and was pleased to hear that this was not a problem. The 3-skilling stamp was a yellowish-orange shade, similar to that normally used for the more expensive variety.
It is not known for certain how this occurred, but the most likely explanation is that a cliché of the 8-skilling printing plate (which consisted of 100 clichés assembled into a 10 x 10 array) was damaged or broken, and mistakenly replaced with a 3-skilling cliché. The number of stamps printed in the wrong colour is unknown, but Backman’s discovery remains the only one known.
Backman later confirmed that the stamp originally came from a letter sent by his brother, a travelling botanist in his spare time. This would explain the cancellation which indicated the letter had been posted at Nya Kopparberget on July 13, 1857.
Sales and famous owners
Heinrich Lichtenstein sold the stamp on, and it changed hands a number of times before Sigmund Friedl sold it to Count Philipp von Ferrary in 1894, who had at that time the largest known stamp collection in the world, and paid the breathtaking sum of 4,000 gulden.
When Ferrary's collection was auctioned in the 1920s, Swedish Baron Eric Leijonhufvud acquired the Yellow, then Claes A. Tamm bought it in 1926 for £1,500 (GBP) in order to complete his collection of Sweden. In 1928, the stamp was sold to lawyer Johan Ramberg for £2,000 who had it for nine years. In 1937, King Carol II of Romania purchased it from London auction house H. R. Harmer for £5,000, and in 1950 it went to Rene Berlingen for an unknown sum.
In the 1970s, the Swedish Postal Museum caused controversy by declaring the stamp to be a forgery, but after examination by two different commissions, it was agreed that it was a genuine error.
In 1984 the stamp made headlines when it was sold by David Feldman for 977,500 Swiss francs. A 1990 sale realized over one million US dollars, then in 1996 it sold again for 2,500,000 Swiss francs. Each successive sale has produced a world record price for a postage stamp.
On 22 May 2010, the stamp was auctioned once again by David Feldman in Geneva2, Switzerland. It sold "for at least the $2.3 million price it set a record for in 1996"3. The buyer reportedly was an "international consortium" and the seller was a financial firm auctioning the stamp to pay the former owner's debt. The exact price and the identity of the buyer were not disclosed, however, and all bidders reportedly were sworn to secrecy.
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