Handwritten letter from Fidel Castro: How much did Siegel sell it for?

Apr 30, 2021, 3 AM

By Matthew Healey, New York Correspondent 

Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries offered worldwide stamps from the stock of the late dealer Irwin Weinberg on Nov. 15-18, and the monumental Ignacio Prats collection of the Republic of Cuba on Nov. 15.

The notable U.S. items from the Weinberg holding are reviewed here. One of the most impressive foreign items in the Weinberg stock was a Trinidad error, a 1901 1-penny black-on-red with the words of value omitted (Scott 78a).

Only three unused examples of the error are known, one of which resides in the Royal Collection. Four were reportedly used on mail at the time of issue, but none of those has ever surfaced. The Weinberg example sold for $43,125, including Siegel’s 15 percent buyer’s premium.

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Not everything in Weinberg’s stock was strictly philatelic. A selection of autographs included one from Fidel Castro, who, as it happened, died two weeks after the sale at age 90.

A six-page letter, handwritten by the revolutionary Cuban leader in 1958 at the height of his guerilla war against the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, describes recent action and concludes with the words “¡buena suerte!” (good luck!) and his distinctive signature, “FideCastro”. The letter sold for $2,415.

An enormous worldwide collection from “one of those rare individuals who set out to complete the world,” housed in 33 Scott Specialty albums ranging from 1840 to the mid 20th century, included tens of thousands of mint and used stamps from all countries except the United States.

“Regarding condition, this is most definitely not a ‘spacefiller’ collection. The better stamps in this collection are at least Fine and more often Very Fine,” the description continued.

In under three minutes, the winning bid came from Donald Sundman of Mystic Stamp Company, based in Camden, N.Y., who paid $856,750, including commission.

“It’s exciting to see hundreds of $1,000 to $10,000 stamps in a single collection. It took decades to find these stamps. Clearly the collector had a lot of fun building this collection,” Sundman said after the sale.

In the introduction to the sale catalog for the Prats collection, Charles F. Shreve, the director of Siegel International, explained that this sale marked the first time a significant collection of the Republic of Cuba was being broken up in a public sale, rather than being sold intact by private treaty. Indeed, the Prats collection’s latest owner had bought it intact some years ago, adding further to it.

In the past, the philatelic community has paid more attention to the republic’s forerunners: Spanish dominion, U.S. occupation, and British post offices on the island. Given Cuba’s renewal of relations with the United States and the death of Fidel Castro, this might now change.

Shreve noted the Prats collection’s “extraordinary depth and array of material, from essays, proofs and specimens, to errors and postal history. Much of this material is sold at a fraction of the price of its counterparts in United States or British West Indies philately.”

Illustrating this point were several items related to the bicolor Portraits issue of 1910, which included a 10-centavo special delivery stamp (Scott E4).

A delightful set of hand-drawn paste-up essays showing the designer’s final work in preparation for the engraving of the designs was described as meticulously done and unique. The set sold for $3,450.

A pair of die proofs of the twin vignettes for the special delivery stamp, one showing the full imprint of the American Bank Note Co. in New York and the other cut down, sold for $863. One vignette shows a bicycle messenger while the other shows J.B. Zayas, a Cuban doctor and army general.

The Prats collection included a long run of inverted-center errors of the 1910 Portraits, as well as a balance lot of 65 examples that fetched $16,100.

One of the highlights of the whole Prats sale was a magnificent block of four of the 10c special delivery stamp with the central vignettes upside-down (Scott E4a), which brought $5,463.