The most remarkable stamp find in history

2d blue of 1840

A VALUABLE find of rare early British stamps occurred at Dalkeith Palace, a Scottish Ducal Seat. It was assumed that they were purchased by the Great-grandfather of the present Duke of Buccleuch.

A remarkable part sheet of forty eight of one of the worlds first stamps, the 2d blue of 1840 was discovered in an old leather travelling writing set on a table in the Palace Library. The block of stamps, comprising the bottom four rows of the sheet, is unused and in extremely fine condition and had remained hidden for over 100 years until discovered in May 1946 by Mr Alexander Martin, the Duke’s Secretary, with 55 penny stamps of the less valuable red-brown issue of 1841. In the writing-set, beside the stamps, was lying a quill pen, pencils, sealing wax and 21 embossed letter seals bearing the initial “B” surmounted by the ducal crown.

The two pieces were handed to Messrs H. R. Harmer, the Bond Street Auctioneers and realised over £5,000 against an original price of 12s. 7d. An official of the firm said: “The block of 2d stamps is probably the most valuable philatelic piece in so far as British stamps are concerned. An almost complete sheet – there were 240 stamps to the sheet – once existed in the late Lord Crawford’s collection, but this was cut up many years ago, an unused block of four today is catalogues at £35,000. The block of 2d stamps has the side and bottom margins intact and the inscription beneath the bottom row reads: “Price 2d per label. 2s. Per row of 12. £2 0s. 0d. Per sheet. Place the labels ABOVE the address and towards the RIGHT HAND SIDE of the letter. In wetting the back be careful not to remove the cement.

Two different plates were employed for the production of the 2d stamp and this block was printed from plate 2, which went to press on the 21st July, 1840, the distribution to Post Offices commencing around the beginning of October of that year. Blocks of the stamp printed from plate 2 are decidedly rarer the plate 1. Walter Francis became the 5th Duke of Beccleuch and 7th Duke of Queensberry in 1819 and was Lord Privy Seal from 1842 to 1846. The Small cabinet in which Mr Alexander Martin found the stamps measures 11in, by 21/2in, is handsomely bound in tooled leather and contained in addition to the 103 stamps and fitted spring-top inkwell similarly bound which bears the gold embossed name of the makers “Coombs & Co”. It is a tribute to their workmanship that the spring which renders the inkwell non-spilling is still in perfect working order.

A removable wooden tray contained three pieces of sealing wax, two bearing the makers name “W. S. Elliot, Torquay”. With the wax, then frequently used for closing the folded letter sheets of the period – envelopes had not yet been invented – was found a wooden handled pen with a curiously designed metal holder in which is still fixed the quill nib. The holder bears the maker’s name “J. Bramah-Patent”. A loose three-pronged metal nib marked “Patend-Perry-London” lay alongside with two lead pencils stamped “C. R. Artists Warranted Pure Cumberland Lead by S. Mordan & Co. London”, also a curious bone object with silk ribbons attached for marking numbers from 1 to 10 in the serration. One side bears the inscription “FOR TODAY” and the reverse “FOR TOMORROW”. The purpose of this article was unknown to London Museum authorities.

Rolled up underneath the removable tray in a space 61/2in x 21/4x3/4in the century-old stamp find was made – perhaps the most remarkable of all time. At the left of the section in which the stamps lay, a further tiny square compartment, covered by a wooden lid with a silk ribbon “handle”, disclosed the twenty-one seals of wafers such as were frequently used to close the letter-sheets of the period. These were 1/2in by just under 1/2in with clipped corner in various colours and were embossed with the ducal crown surmounting the letter “B”. They indicated with reasonable certainty that the writing set was personally used by the 5th Duke.

In 1946 this amazing find was sold to and English collector, G.P Bailey. In later years the block became the property of an Italian industrialist. It then passed to Renato Mondolfo, RDP and in 1985 to Hassan Shaida. Shadaides collection including the block was sold in 1991 to Guido Caveri. The block was shown at ANPHLEX in 1996 and then passed into the hands of SPINKS OF LONDON who offered it for sale in 1997 for the grand sum of £2.75 million!