Only example of 1878 Fiji error of color in private hands in Nov. 15 Siegel sale of Schwartz Fiji and Samoa collection

Nov 6, 2023, 8 AM

By Charles Snee

On Nov. 15, Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York City will offer an impressive collection of rare stamps, postal history and proofs from the South Pacific islands of Fiji and Samoa. Siegel’s sale of the collection, meticulously assembled over many years by Barry K. Schwartz, is being conducted in association with Charles F. Shreve, director of Siegel International in Dallas.

One stamp in the collection, the Fiji 1878 2-penny ultramarine Queen Victoria error of color (Scott 41b) is the only one of the four documented examples available to collectors. A normal example of the stamp (41) is green.

In 1878, Fiji inaugurated a new series of stamps featuring the “V.R.” (Victoria Regina) monogram with a crown above it. The 1d (Scott 40) and 2d denominations were printed in ultramarine and green, respectively.

Donna O’Keefe, in Linn’s Philatelic Gems 3, provides a summary of the discovery of the 2d ultramarine color error:

“On March 28, 1881, John B. Thurston of the Colonial Secretary’s Office ordered 50,000 2d green and 30,000 6d bright rose stamps from the Government Printing Office in Sydney, Australia. The stamps were printed and shipped by SS Gunga on April 11. When the order arrived, however, it was discovered that the 2d was printed in ultramarine instead of green.

“ … Thurston acknowledged receipt of the stamps on May 3, 1881, but pointed out the 2d color error. He requested a new shipment of this denomination in the proper green color.

“In the January-February 1987 London Philatelist, John B. Marriott, keeper of the Royal [Philatelic] Collection, discusses the Fiji error of color. Marriott says that on December 19, 1889, the receiver general, in response to an inquiry from the colonial secretary, sent four of the color errors and reported that ‘about 50,000 were on hand.’ ”

Those 50,000 2d ultramarine error stamps were eventually destroyed in 1890.

In his overview of the sale catalog for the Schwartz collection, Scott Trepel, president of Siegel Auction Galleries, recounts the respective fates of the four that initially escaped destruction.

“One found its way into King George V’s stamp album and is still part of The Royal Philatelic Collection,” Trepel said. “Another was pasted down in a book of stamps kept in the Crown Agents archives, located today in The British Library. Those two will never become available to collectors.”

Trepel reports that Count Philippe Ferrari acquired an example prior to 1892. Almost a century later, disaster struck.

Trepel said that after Ferrari’s death in 1917, “his copy of the error was sold at auction in Paris and passed from collector to collector until 1983, when it suffered a fatal tragedy in the Ash Wednesday bush fires in Australia. It was owned at the time by a collector named John Gartner. As the fires spread to his house, Gartner and his wife fled to the safety of the swimming pool and watched the blaze consume their home and his beloved stamp collection. The blue error stamp turned to ashes, leaving just one in private hands.”

The 2d ultramarine color error in the Schwartz collection was sold in an H.R. Harmer auction in London in 1933. According to O’Keefe, the stamp “was sold by private treaty by Harmers of New York during the AMERIPEX ’86 international stamp show in Chicago in 1986.”

Siegel notes that Schwartz acquired the stamp in the Feb. 23, 1996, Shreves Philatelic Galleries sale of the Howard and Torie Gibralter collection of important Great Britain and British Commonwealth stamps. Schwartz paid $35,750, which includes the 10 percent buyer’s premium.

“On this occasion, we have to wonder what a stamp is worth when it realized $35,750 in a sale 27 years ago and is the only known example in private hands,” Siegel said in the detailed lot description.

"The Fiji 2p Ultramarine color error is a major stamp rarity from a British colony that has always held great philatelic importance,” Siegel said. “There are very few stamps in the world that are the only ones of their kind available to collectors.”

Accompanying the stamp is a May 19, 1976, Friedl Expert Committee certificate signed by Herbert J. Bloch stating that the stamp is “unused with original gum.” Bloch also signed the stamp, according to the certificate.

Against a Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940 value of $40,000, Siegel is offering this Fiji 1878 2d ultramarine Queen Victoria error of color with an estimate of $50,000 to $75,000.

Another standout item in the Schwartz Fiji and Samoa collection is the only recorded example of the Fiji 1922 2d gray King George V stamp with the denomination and value tablet omitted (Scott 98a).

Specifically, the unique printing mistake occurs on the center stamp of an unused block of nine.

The King George V stamp is a keytype issue, meaning that the basic stamp design was used for the issues of two or more postal entities, usually differing in the country name and denomination inscription.

The 2d gray King George V and all other British Commonwealth keytype issues were printed in two steps. One plate printed the frame and the king’s head, and a second plate printed the country name and denomination tablet.

“In the case of the Fiji 2p stamp, the monochrome design appears as if it were printed from one plate,” Siegel said in the catalog lot description. “However, in this extraordinary error block, the value tablet was obstructed by a piece of foreign matter, probably a rectangular piece of paper that also obstructed parts of the second impression on the adjoining stamp to the left and the first two stamps in the bottom row.”

A closer look at the block, shown above, shows how the obstruction affected the three stamps in addition to the error. For example, the country name on the first stamp in the bottom row reads “FIJ” instead of “FIJI.”

According to Siegel, the error once resided in the collections of R.E. Darnton, David Melat, Peter Robinson and Lester Meis. Schwartz added the error to his collection during Shreves Philatelic Galleries’ 2003 sale of the Meis collection.

British Philatelic Association certificates issued in 1971 and 2003 both state that the error is genuine.

The Scott Classic Specialized catalog values Fiji Scott 98a at $27,500. Siegel is offering this unique error tucked inside a block of nine with an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000.

Full details of the auction of the Schwartz Fiji and Samoa collection, including a downloadable version of the 92-page catalog and online bidding options, are available on the Siegel website.

For additional information, contact Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, 21 W. 38th St., Seventh Floor, New York, NY 10018.

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