Every collector knows the excitement of sorting through a batch of stamps. Whether a packet, a mixture, an odds and ends box with a little bit of everything, or even grandpa's old letters, all of us from neophyte to long time philatelist coming upon a new cache harbors the hope that he will find a gem amidst the usual.
And it is not just cockeyed collector's optimism that makes us believe this to be possible: some of the greatest rarities in stampdom were retrieved from the most unassuming and ordinary places. After all, even though it seems exotic and unusual to us now, who would have imagined at the time that a group of missionaries would be responsible for providing the philatelic world with some of the star items of philately?
Found Stamp Treasures
Philatelic lore tells us that a block of forty-eight of the English two penny blues was found a century after they were issued, by a secretary to Scottland's Duke of Buccleuch. Along with the Penny Black, the two penny blues were the first stamps ever issued in 1840. If the Duke's secretary had not moved his desk away from the wall - perhaps he had dropped his pencil behind it? - this rarity might still be waiting to be found.
The Mauritius Post Office Rarities
One of the most celebrated pieces in the world of stamp collecting, a cover bearing both the 1p orange and 2p Blue Mauritius 1847 Post Office error is said to have been discovered in a file by a French boy around the beginning of the twentieth century. That treasured cover until its sale in 1993 was in the hands of a private collector who boasts an extraordinary Mauritius collection, which was highlighted by the cover.
Stamp Rarities from France, Britain and Sweden
The list of rarities found in the oddest places goes on. It was another desk that was the hiding place for the French block of four 1fr vermillion with one value tete-beche (upside down in relation to the other three stamps), an error creating an almost absurdly valuable philatelic item.
And consider the one-of-a-kind Swedish 3 Skilling Banco error of color. That incredible - and incredibly valuable - stamp was found in used condition by G.W. Backman in his grandfather's papers.
The Best Known Stamp Rarities
Where true stamp collectors and philatelists are concerned there are a couple rarities that needn't even be mentioned, so much are they a part of the consciousness of collectors. The first is the renowned British Guiana 1 cent magenta, which was seemingly just another stamp among many until young L. Vernon Vaughan discovered it 1873. For the sake of simplicity, let's just say it's worth over one million dollars, though what it will bring at its next sale from the John Dupont collection will have the philatelic world's undivided attention.
The Inverted Jenny, the best known rarity in the United States at least isn't as rare as many, thanks to the fact that there are fifty of them, once an entire sheet, unlike most other rarities of only one or a few. In fact, it was bought at the post office by Mr. Robey who turned a good profit by selling it to a dealer. From there it was broken up and examples of the rarity found its way into many collections, most notably that of Colonel Green, a supercollector of the early part of the twentieth century who was known to buy entire stamp shops if he liked the stock. The Upside Down Airplane is the world stamp rarity that everyone who's not a collector knows about, mostly because whenever a copy of it comes up for sale it creates a media event, covered on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet.
The lesson for stamp collectors is clear: If you're a serious collector don't pass by the "bargain boxes," odd lots and out of the way sources for stamps. Even at this late date philatelic treasures can be found, and sometimes it is amidst the trash.