Japan 1871 Dragons invert rarity sells for almost $5.8 million in June 3 Feldman auction

Jun 12, 2023, 7 AM
The Japan 1871 500-mon blue green type I Dragons stamp with the vignette showing the Japanese characters of value inverted now ranks third on the list of highest prices paid for a single philatelic item.

By Charles Snee

On June 3 in Geneva, Switzerland, the David Feldman auction firm sold a legendary philatelic rarity of Japan for €5.4 million, the equivalent of almost $5.8 million. The eye-popping price includes the 23 percent buyer’s premium.

The stamp is the 1871 500-mon blue green type I Dragons stamp with the vignette showing the Japanese characters of value inverted (Scott 4h). Type I Dragons stamps have solid dots in the inner border surrounding the two dragons and the characters.

Scott 4h is valued at $175,000 in the Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940. The value is in italics to indicate an item that can be difficult to value accurately because it appears in the marketplace infrequently.

In light of the Feldman sale, the Scott catalog editors likely will adjust the value in the 2024 edition of the Scott Classic Specialized catalog, which will be published in November.

The 500m type I Dragon was printed in sheets of 40 arranged in five rows of eight stamps. The invert error, which is unique and only known used, is from position 33 in the original error sheet (if the sheet was turned upside down before the vignette was printed), which corresponds to position 8 in a normal pane.

According to Feldman, the error was discovered in the collection of J.C. Linsley sometime between 1953 and 1973.

According to Feldman’s summary of the stamp’s history, Linsley “was never sure of its status and it fell on Mark E. Weber, his adopted son, to send it in 1973 to Dr. Varro E. Tyler, Expert Committee Chairman of the International Society for Japanese Philately (I.S.J.P.) for expertization.”

“Believing it to be authentic but requiring a more credible certification, Tyler sent the stamp to the Expert Committee of the All Japan Philatelic Federation,” Feldman said.

“Fearing that registered mail would attract theft, he surprisingly sent the great rarity by regular mail. It thankfully arrived safely into the hands of Dr. Tani Takashi who couldn’t quite believe his eyes when he saw the center inverted. He immediately rushed to show it to Dr. Ichida Soichi, the most renowned expert of the time, who, after careful examination declared its absolute authenticity, which has never been questioned since.”

The June 3 sale was the first time this error came to auction since it became publicly known in 1973, Feldman said.

This famous error previously resided in the Meiji Property of Japan, which Feldman calls “one of the most significant and comprehensive properties of Japanese stamps and covers ever formed.”

In a June 3 press release, Feldman said that an “Asian gentleman” submitted the winning bid via telephone.

“The underbidder, an esteemed European collector, was very disappointed to be outbid,” Feldman said.

“I had prepared my bid as high as 4 million Euros and even made a few more steps, but now I must congratulate the new owner!” Feldman quoted the underbidder as saying.

The 500m Dragons invert now ranks third on the list of highest prices paid for asingle philatelic item. Second place belongs to the unique 1856 1¢ Magenta of British Guiana (Scott 14), which sold for $8.3 million during a June 8, 2021, Sotheby’s auction in New York City.

The all-time highest price of almost $12 million was achieved when the famous cover bearing an 1847 1-penny orange Post Office stamp of Mauritius was sold June 26, 2021, by Christoph Gaertner in Germany.

The Mauritius Ball cover is one of just three known and the only one remaining in private hands.

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