Hong Kong-based Interasia Auctions hosts this year's first major international auction of Chinese and Hong Kong stamps this weekend from January 11–14 at the Excelsior Hotel Hong Kong.
A total of 3,600 lots with a pre-sale estimate in excess of HK$60 million (US$7.7 million) go under the hammer in what is expected to be the largest auction of Chinese stamps anywhere in the world this season. Each season Interasia's semi-annual auction of Chinese, Hong Kong and Asian stamps is the largest Chinese stamp auction anywhere in the world, dwarfing the other stamp auctions in China and Hong Kong, and this weekend's sale promises to be no exception.
Highlights include major rarities of Classic China and the People's Republic of China, the most prized valued as high as HK$5 million (US$644,000), as well as the earliest known letter from Hong Kong.
"Avid collectors worldwide will be paying keen attention to the auction to gauge current valuation sentiment," said Dr Jeffrey Schneider, Director of Interasia Auctions and an international expert in Chinese and Asian philately. "While the Chinese art market has seen significant corrections, classic Chinese stamps have shown strong resilience buoyed by major serious collectors in Mainland China and growing enthusiasm from ethnic Chinese abroad and non-Chinese alike. "Chinese stamps remain among the most popular in the world, steadily increasing in value amid fierce competition, with collecting considered a sophisticated and fashionable hobby, as well as a store of value and alternative investment."
Day One: Classic Chinese stamps headline the first day, Saturday, January 11. They include China's first stamp issue – the 1878-85 Large Dragons – with five of the rare covers, including a three-color franking with three different issues cancelled in red at Kiukiang (one of only three recorded) (Lot 39; HK$800,000-1,000,000), an outstanding Large Dragons-U.S. combination cover (Lot 110; HK$1,000,000-1,200,000), and the very rare "Postage already paid/Do not demand, do not pay" framed handstamp applied to Large Dragons on cover (one of only two such recorded usages) (Lot 95; HK$1,000,000-1,200,000).
The extensive 1897 Red Revenues, considered by many to be China's first true national postage stamp issue as the previous stamps had been issued by the foreigner-dominated Customs Department and now the most popular issue of Classic China, include one of the finest known examples of the Small figures surcharge 4c. on 3c. red, variety surcharge double (Lot 546; presale estimate HK$1,200,000-1,500,000), of which only 25 stamps were produced, a used part sheet of 80 of the Small 2c. (Lot 545; presale estimate HK$1,200,00-1,500,000), and a spectacular used corner pane of 25 of the Large 4c. (Lot 604; presale estimate HK$800,000-1,000,000).
Later issues include a unique set of 32 essays and die proofs of 1898-1910 Coiling Dragons from Waterlow & Sons London printer's archives (Lot 643; HK$5,000,000-6,000,000), while the 1913-33 Junk issues feature a matchless set of marginal imprint blocks of four of the 1914-19 first Peking printing (Lot 739; HK$1,000,000-1,200,000) from the legendary China collection of Major James Starr.
Day Two: The large Hong Kong offering of stamps and postal history kicks off this day and is highlighted by the earliest known letter from Hong Kong (Lot 1001; HK$250,000-300,000) – the well-documented September 9, 1839 entire letter from missionary Reverend J.R. Morrison to his sister in England. It was written aboard a ship in Hong Kong Harbour housing British refugees expelled from Canton at the outset of the First Opium War.
The lengthy letter describes the evacuation of the British refugees from Macau, which had been unwilling to let them remain after their leaving Canton, and notes "the feeling of the Chinese [that the British were] protecting the opium trade." Written before postal service to Hong Kong at a time when Hong Kong was little more than a series of villages and hamlets, the letter was privately carried to Singapore, from where it was sent through the mails to England via India.
Major rarities of the People's Republic of China on Sunday, January 12 are highlighted by the only known set of blocks of four of the 1952 unissued Russian Revolution set with the Soviet inscription error (Lot 2208; HK$2,500,000-3,000,000) to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the 1917 October Russian Revolution. These extraordinary blocks have never before appeared on the auction market.
Used sets of the 1958 Student Union Congress errors (Lots 2226 and 2227; HK$850,000-1,000,000 and HK$300,000-400,000 respectively) are among other rarities from the early years of the People's Republic.
Rarities from the Cultural Revolution are anchored by the 1968 unissued large format "Whole Country is Red" (Lot 2426; HK$3,500,000-4,000,000) depicting workers, peasants and soldiers before a map of China with one worker holding up Mao's little red book. Part of a set to commemorate the Great Victory of the Cultural Revolution, it is thought to have been rejected because of its large size and ordered destroyed – and less than ten examples are known of this great rarity considered one of the Treasures of the Stamps of the Cultural Revolution.
The auction also includes a second stamp of this proposed set to honor the triumph of the Cultural Revolution and another of its Treasures – the Victory stamp showing Chairman Mao and Lin Biao before a victory celebration in the countryside – in a lovely mint example with sheet margin (Lot 2425; HK$400,000-500,000). A pristine mint marginal example of the most iconic stamp of the People's Republic – the 1968 issued "Whole Country is Red" (Lot 2427; HK$600,000-800,000) – has the printer's imprint in the sheet margin.
The stamp was withdrawn almost immediately after issuance, officially because of inaccuracies in the map of China, but interestingly – despite the stamp's name – it shows Taiwan in white with Mainland China in red.
Day Three: Monday, January 13, includes important Taiwan issues, with three exceedingly rare 1883-84 covers from the early Customs Post in Southern Taiwan to the Princely State of Oldenburg in Germany (Lots 3764-3766; HK$1,700,000-2,350,000), as well as magnificent blocks of four of the 1950-52 Flying Geese issues (Lots 3818-3830) from the Y.C.C. collection.
Day Four: The auction concludes on Tuesday, January 14 with China envelopes and postal stationery, as well as general Asian stamps and postal history. Outstanding Portuguese Asia pre-philately includes the finest known example of the "Macao Correio Maritimo" handstamp (Lot 4537; HK$150,000-200,000). Korea is highlighted by the only recorded North Korea/South Korea combination cover (Lot 4591; HK$120,000-150,000).