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The Multi-Million Dollar Stamp Collection

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A One-Of-A-Kind Auction

From  stamps to coins to baseball cards, people collect rare or unique items, at least partly in the hope they will appreciate in value and perhaps one day fetch a handsome sum. One stunning example is the postage stamp collection of Robert H. Cunliffe, which will be auctioned in New York on June 18 -19 by . The collection features the rarest kind of postage stamps - ones with an inverted center, meaning the central image was mistakenly printed upside down. In a typical auction, these would be t
Lot descriptions and images are provided by Spink Shreves Galleries.

From stamps to coins to baseball cards, people collect rare or unique items, at least partly in the hope they will appreciate in value and perhaps one day fetch a handsome sum. One stunning example is the postage stamp collection of Robert H. Cunliffe, which will be auctioned in New York on June 18 -19 by Spink Shreves Galleries.

The collection features the rarest kind of postage stamps — ones with an inverted center, meaning the central image was mistakenly printed upside down. In a typical auction, these would be the most expensive on display, if there were any at all. The auction showcases over 600 lots containing thousands of individual stamps in what is, without question, the largest collection of inverted stamps in history.

Although the stamps have an original face value of just a few cents, the book value of some is anywhere between a few thousand dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. The auction house expects to generate $4-5 million in sales with the proceeds going to the estate of Cunliffe, who died last year, not long after the auction process was set in motion.

What are some of the rarest and most expensive stamps in this one-of-a-kind auction? Click ahead to find out!

By Paul Toscano
Posted 18 June 2009

1915 $2.00 Hall of Classics

Lot #1103The attractive Arch of the Hall of Classics design used on the dollar values of the Junk series was printed in sheets of 50 (10x5) in the Peking printings. Only one sheet of 50 stamps contained this error when it was found in the Hankow post office. This is the sole plate number single from the sheet. This is only the second stamp of this kind the house has had  on  auction. A fresh example with slightly irregular perforations at left  fetched $26,500, plus the buyer's premium, in Spink
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $20,000
Lot #1103

The attractive Arch of the Hall of Classics design used on the dollar values of the Junk series was printed in sheets of 50 (10x5) in the Peking printings. Only one sheet of 50 stamps contained this error when it was found in the Hankow post office. This is the sole plate number single from the sheet.

This is only the second stamp of its kind the auction house has had. The last had slightly irregular perforations on its left side, and fetched $26,500, plus the buyer's premium, in Spink Shreves’ September 2005 Collector's Series Sale.

$2.50 Claret and Black

Estimated Value: $25,000Lot #153A mint example of the rarest of the Third Issue Inverts it has full original gum, better centering than most of the existing copies, lovely rich colors, and is in “very fine” condition. Arguably the most desirable Two Dollar Fifty Cent Inverted Center of the mere fifteen recorded, it is the only mint example with full original gum, and one of only three that are completely sound (the other two sound copies possess similar centering to this); a major condition rari
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $25,000
Lot #153

This stamp is a mint example of the rarest of the Third Issue Inverts. It has full original gum, better centering than most of the existing copies, lovely rich colors, and is in “very fine” condition. 

It is arguably the most desirable Two Dollar Fifty Cent Inverted Center of the mere fifteen recorded. It is the only mint example with full original gum, and one of only three that are completely sound (the other two sound copies possess similar centering to this). However, as a major condition rarity, it is signed "W.H.C."

1898 1p Cheque Stamp

Lot #1037From its last appearance at auction in the Harmers "Inverted Centres" sale of February 25, 1963,  it has  had expert restoration of a small facial thin within the center oval by the letters "PRO" of "PROTECTORATE" . Of  the mere fifteen examples of this rarity known to exist,  it still is among the finest , as nearly all have faults much more severe than the Cunliffe example.
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $30,000
Lot #1037

From its last appearance at auction in the Harmers "Inverted Centres" sale of February 25, 1963, it has had expert restoration of a small facial thin within the center oval by the letters "PRO" of "PROTECTORATE." Of  the mere fifteen examples of this rarity known to exist, it is still is among the finest, as nearly all have faults much more severe than the Cunliffe example.

1854 4a Red and Blue

Estimated Value: $35,000Lot #1181The 4 anna "Inverted Head" of India is one of the legendary rarities in 19th - century philately. There are just  27 confirmed examples of this stamp, only three of which are cut square. The most popular  explanation for the square cut  is that these errors were discovered very early on and some of the printed albums of the period had illustrations of the error. So, it is believed that many of these were cut to shape by early collectors to match the space provide
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $35,000
Lot #1181

The 4 anna "Inverted Head" of India is one of the legendary rarities in 19th-century philately. There are just 27 confirmed examples of this stamp, only three of which are cut square.

The most popular explanation for the square cut is that these errors were discovered very early on and some of the printed albums of the period had illustrations of the error. It is believed that many of these were cut to shape by early collectors to match the space provided in the album.

1920 Bright Orange and Orange, Frame Inverted

Estimated Value: $48,000Lot #1224According to most accounts this, "Inverted Frame" variety was discovered by a local collector at the small post office in Manchioneal, a village in Jamaica in 1922. It is presumed that only one sheet of 60 had the error, with half the sheet going to Manchioneal and the other half to Kingston. An estimated 10-20 of the stamps still exist. The phenomenal corner sheet-margin pair offered here is the only recorded pair and ranks among the most important rarities in B
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $48,000
Lot #1224

According to most accounts, this "Inverted Frame" variety was discovered by a local collector at a small village post office in Manchioneal, Jamaica, in 1922. It is presumed that only one sheet of 60 had the error, with half the sheet going to Manchioneal and the other half to Kingston.

An estimated 10 to 20 of the stamps still exist. The phenomenal corner sheet-margin pair offered here is the only recorded pair and ranks among the most important rarities in British Commonwealth philately. It is also one of the premier inverted printings in the world.

25c Green and Black

Lot #169This is the only recorded example of this stunning error and is one of three Beer Stamps to be found with an inverted center (each of the three is unique). This was the first of the three to be recognized, being in the collection of Edgar L. Green. Because there has been no public sale of a Beer Stamp Invert and due to their unique status, it is difficult to determine the market price. There is only one other United States Inverted Center that is unique. It also happens to be a revenue s
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $40,000-$50,000
Lot #169

This is the only recorded example of this stunning error, and it is one of three Beer Stamps to be found with an inverted center (each of the three is unique). This one, which was once in the collection of Edgar L. Green, was the first of the three to be recognized.

Because there has been no public sale of a Beer Stamp Invert and due to their unique status, it is difficult to determine the market price. There is only one other United States Inverted Center that is unique. When that stamp made its last appearance at auction, it realized $120,000.

1866 10k Brown and Blue

Lot #1277The 1866 10k Brown and blue is one of the rarest and most famous stamps of Russia. In addition, it is one of the key highlights for a serious collection of inverted centers of the world. Less than ten examples are known and all have been used . This is certainly one of the "stars" of the Cunliffe collection, which has a "constellation" of "stars" unlike any other collection ever formed.
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $60,000
Lot #1277

The 1866 10k Brown and blue is one of the rarest and most famous stamps of Russia. In addition, it is one of the key highlights for a serious collection of inverted centers of the world, making it one of the stars of the Cunliffe collection. Less than 10 examples are known to exist, and all have been used.

1920 65c Town Hall at Termonde

Lot #1030As with many famed inverted centers, the story as to how the errors came about and were placed into circulation is an integral part of  investors' fascination .  This famous rarity of Belgium - the only inverted center stamp of the country - is no exception.. The stamps went on sale August 5 (1920) as planned. Several other customers purchased the 65c stamps and affixed them to letters. Then Hye de Crom purchased one of the Termonde stamps. He noticed that the Town Hall was upside down.
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $67,500
Lot #1030

As with many famed inverted centers, the story as to how the errors came about and were placed into circulation is an integral part of investors' fascination. This famous rarity of Belgium — the only inverted center stamp of the country — is no exception. The stamps went on sale August 5, 1920, as planned.

Several other customers purchased the 65c stamps and affixed them to letters. Then Hye de Crom purchased one of the Termonde stamps. He noticed that the Town Hall was upside down. Knowing the potential value of these major errors, de Crom returned to the window to buy more stamps from the sheet. He succeeded in purchasing 16 inverts in all.

24c Carmine Rose and Blue

Lot #46The 1918 Twenty Four Cent Inverted Jenny is one of the most recognized and desired rarities in all of philately. Its legendary status began the moment the stamp was issued in May, 1918, when William T. Robey purchased an entire error sheet of 100 at the New York Avenue Post Office window in Washington D.C. just one day after the stamp was issued. Within one week Robey sold the sheet for $15,000.00 to the well-known Philadelphia stamp dealer Eugene Klein (an impressive return on his initia
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $500,000
Lot #46

The 1918 Twenty Four Cent Inverted Jenny is one of the most recognized and desired rarities in all of philately. Its legendary status began the moment the stamp was issued in May 1918, when William T. Robey purchased an entire error sheet of 100 at the New York Avenue Post Office window in Washington D.C., just one day after the stamp was issued.

Within one week, Robey sold the sheet for $15,000 to the well-known Philadelphia stamp dealer Eugene Klein, scoring an impressive return on his initial $24 investment. The whereabouts of at least six examples of this stamp are unknown and presumably lost to philately.

4c Pan-American

Lot #36This multiple ranks as one of the greatest rarities in US philately. That such a multiple exists, particularly being an imprint and plate number multiple, of one of the rarest and most popular of all US inverts is most remarkable.It is one of only two plate number multiples extant of the Four Cent Pan-American Invert. The other is a bottom margin partial imprint and plate no. 1145 block of four, with similar centering and traces of original gum. That exceptional block was sold in 1998 and
Photo Courtesy: Spink Shreves Galleries

Estimated Value: $550,000
Lot #36

This multiple ranks as one of the greatest rarities in U.S. philately. That such a multiple exists, particularly being an imprint and plate number multiple of one of the rarest and most popular of all US inverts, is most remarkable.

It is one of only two plate number multiples extant of the Four Cent Pan-American Invert. The other is a bottom-margin partial imprint and plate no. 1145 block of four, with similar centering and traces of original gum. That exceptional block was sold in 1998 and was acquired by Pimco's Chief Investment Officer Bill Gross, and it is unlikely that multiple will be sold any time soon. The Cunliffe strip of four is equally impressive and is unique as a full imprint and plate number multiple.