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Some stamps are just classics, for many different reasons. I thought it would be interesting just to list some and make a short summary about my "top-ten" (you are also welcome to disagree with the choices!). Of course, I shall start with the most mythical,
1. the Penny Black - first issued in May, 1840, it was the world's first adhesive postal stamp and revolutionized postal history. Before the Penny Black, the postal duty was paid by the recipient, who could have chosen not to receive it, causing losses for the postal authorities. The Penny Black introduced pre-payment in the postal system at a time letters were folded and the stamp glued on the outside - what also contributed that many of these stamps survived today (who kept the letter, kept the stamp). So, contrary to what many believe, the Penny Black is not actually a rare, expensive stamp, although a perfect piece could be costly.
2. British Guiana 1c magenta - issued in 1856 by the British Guyana (today's Guyana), this stamp was created for local newspapers. Only one example is known to have survived, and its whereabouts are not surely known, although speculation says it may be in a bank's volt, where its last keeper left it before dying in prison.
3. Inverted Jenny - issued in 1918 by the USA the airplane in the centre of the design appears upside-down as a result of an error. Very rare, around a 100 examples can be found in the world today. This stamp was involved in the greatest trade known: Bill Gross, a great stamp collector, bought a unique block of 4 in 2005 just to trade them with a stamp dealer, Donald Sundman, for a USA 1c Z Grill. Mr. Gross became the first and only philatelist to complete a collection of the US 19th century stamps.
4. the Bull's Eye - Brazilian's first issue of 1943 made Brazil be the second country to issue stamps at a federal level (although local issues in Zurich and New York had already circulated after the Penny Black and before the Bull's Eye). I have already written an entire post about it, so I shall be brief. Being quite popular, its "Pack Strip" (a strip containing the 30, 60 and 90 values) was sold for over 1.2 million USD in a 1993 auction. They are considered quite seldom, since few survived today, although the exact number is hard to say.
5. Treskilling Yellow - the Swedish 1855 stamp variety is famous due to an error in printing. The original stamp was printed in a blue-green colour, and only one yellow example is known to exist today - possibly holding the world's record auction price for a stamp (around 2.5 million USD).
6. Mauritius "Post Office" - invitations to a ball in the governor's house were being prepared when the governor's wife had the idea of sending them with the first stamp of Mauritius in 1847. The first issues had the print 'Post Office" on them, being replaced by "Post Paid" the following year. 27 examples are known to exist today.
7. Benjamin Franklin Z Grill - issued by the US in 1868, the stamp contains indentions caused by a grill pressed on the paper. It is the rarest US stamp, with only 2 known examples, one of which owned by the New York Public Library.
8. Basel Dove - before Switzerland established its countrywide postal system (1849), the canton of Basel issued the Basel Dove in 1845, which is today very rare, although its exact numbers are unknown. It was the first stamp issued in three colours, and it has been widely forged (so beware if you encounter one around!).
9. Cape Triangular - Cape of Good Hope, a Portuguese colony where nowadays one may find Cape Town, in South Africa, introduced the world's first triangular stamps in 1853. The original shape may be due to stand out from that of the British, but also to symbolize a less expensive stamp to be used inland.
10. Scinde Dawk - in 1852 Sindh, an area located in today's Pakistan, replaced the old local system of postage paid by weight and the distance of addresses (where runners would deliver to) by a simple more inexpensive uniform rate for postage (where camels and horses replaced the runners). Like the Basel Dove, these were also widely forged.
Pictures taken in GLABRA 2013 (in Grarus, Switzerland). Exhibitor: Hans
Zweifel. "Die ersten Briefmarken der Welt von 1840—1849"
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