By Matthew Healey
Spink will offer the Hermione collection, billed as “the most important assembly of semi-modern France ever offered at auction,” in six parts on Nov. 21-22 in London.
Most auctions of French stamps focus on classic 19th-century issues featuring the goddess Ceres, Emperor Napoleon III or the allegorical Peace and Commerce on the so-called Sage issue of 1876-1900.
The Hermione collection, which is from an unnamed consignor, has plenty of top-flight classic material, but it is also unusually strong in 20th-century issues.
Each part of the collection has its own catalog. The catalog for Part 1, which is in English, is devoted to the classics. Part 2 covers the Blanc, Mouchon and Merson definitive (regular-issue) stamps of 1900-29.
Part 3 presents the iconic Semeuse (Sower) design, current from 1903-38, while Part 4 deals with the engraved 1929-33 high denominations showing the Arc de Triomphe, Reims Cathedral, Mont St. Michel, the port of La Rochelle and the Pont du Gard.
Part 5 includes early airmails, particularly the 10-franc overprints for use on mail catapulted off the ocean liner SS Ile de France.
Part 6 is titled “Gems of the 20th century,” but this is less a catchall than an impressive catalog of major rarities, heavy on errors and freaks and including blocks, sheets and “epreuves de luxe,” or souvenir die proofs.
Among the classics is a color essay of the 40-centime Ceres issue printed in blue rather than the usual orange. According to Spink, a change of color for this denomination was planned in March 1849 but abandoned. The item is estimated at €20,000 to €30,000 (approximately $22,650 to $34,000).
(All lots are priced in euros; as of this writing, 1 euro equals $1.13. Spink adds a 20 percent buyer’s premium to all bids, and other fees may also apply. As always, read the terms and conditions carefully before bidding.)
One notable postal history item is a cover postmarked Jan. 9, 1870, that represents the earliest-known use of France’s first high-denomination stamp, the 5fr Napoleon III in gray lilac on lavender (Scott 37), estimated at €5,000 to €10,000 ($5,670 to $11,320).
Perhaps the most visually stunning of the classic-era items is an unused sheet-margin single of the Sage 1c Prussian blue color variety.
All lower-denomination stamps of that design, including the 1c (Scott 64) were first printed in green. This proved confusing, so the colors were changed, and the 1c was reissued in black on lilac blue or gray blue (86, 86a).
On a later, limited printing of the latter color scheme, the allover background color appeared in a deeper, richer shade that collectors like to call Prussian blue (Scott 87). The unused example in the Hermione collection reveals this scarce background shade in ample glory on the selvage at the top of the stamp.
Called “probably the most spectacular example” of this sought-after shade, it is estimated at €10,000 to €20,000 ($11,320 to $22,650).
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Moving to the 20th century, one of the more remarkable lots is a “probably unique” unused example of the 5fr Mont St. Michel issue of 1930-31. Normally, the spire of the church shows one of two die varieties (Scott 249-250), but in this case the spire is obliterated by a freakish printing mishap that makes the mountain appear to be erupting. The estimate ranges from €1,000 all the way to €5,000 (to $1,1320 $5,670).
Among the many covers in the Spink sale that were sent by seaplane catapulted from the Ile de France in 1928, one is especially colorful. It bears the 10fr-on-1.50fr Pasteur stamp (Scott C4) as well as a 2fr orange and pale blue Merson issue (127), the full 1924 Olympics set (198-201), a United States 5¢ Beacon airmail stamp (C11) and a registration label.
Though philatelically contrived, it is nevertheless visually spectacular. It carries an estimate of €4,000 to €8,000 ($4,530 to $9,060).
In 1939, France was about to launch a splendid new ocean liner, christened Pasteur, with a 70c postage stamp honoring the occasion. However, the outbreak of World War II canceled both the launch and the stamp. Two years later, the stamp appeared with a 1fr+1fr semipostal overprint to benefit a sailors’ charity (Scott B114).
A tiny number of the original 70c stamps escaped surcharging. The example in the Spink sale is estimated at €20,000 to €40,000 ($22,650 to $45,300).
Viewing of the lots is at the annual Salon Philatelique d’Automne in Paris on Nov. 8-11, as well as at Spink’s premises at 69 Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, London, where the sale takes place. PDF versions of the six catalogs can be downloaded free from the website, where visitors will also find an email link to order hard copies of the catalogs.