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Canadian Stamp Auctions

Stamp Market Commentary

Commentary No. 88 - 17 October, 2006

The 12 Penny Black

Scott 3 - One of Canada’s Most Valuable Stamps

Over the past ten years, we have recorded the sale of eight mint copies of the 12d black at auction and seven used copies for a total of fifteen. This is Canada’s second most valuable stamp

Only the 2¢ Large Queen on laid paper has been given a higher catalogue value. But we are not aware of a copy of this rare stamp being sold at auction. The two copies that are known to exist have always been sold privately.

According to the Unitrade catalogue, 50,000 copies of the 12d black were ordered by the Post Office back in 1851. However because of little demand, most were destroyed so that only 1,450 of that quantity remained for use as postage at that time.. How many of these still exist? Perhaps the answer can be found in an article published in the November 8, 1988 Canadian Stamp News which had this to say about the portion of the 50,000 stamps that weren’t sold: “ The unsold stamps reportedly were destroyed in May, 1857. Today approximately 100 examples exist, including fewer than eight on cover and a small quantity of pairs. Many have been damaged and repaired”

Two outstanding examples:

Spink & Son
Lot 575
October 16, 2002
$135,000 Cdn. (£55,000)

Of all the copies that have been sold, these are our two favorites. The above copy, sold in London by Spink & Son in 2002, came from the foot of the sheet and had nearly full original gum. The estimate was £30,000-£40,000.

R. Maresch & Son
Lot 26, Private Treaty Sale
July 17, 1977
Offered at $55,000 Cdn.

This copy came from the Maresch’s first private treaty sale in 1977. It was described as having huge margins including the complete sheet margin at right, full original gum, deep rich colour, superb in every respect; the finest existing mint copy; ex Dale-Lichtenstein. In the catalogue, Bill Maresch stated that he hoped that many of the lots being offered would find their way to enhancing award-winning collections at CAPEX.

Sure enough, a year later, the International CAPEX exhibition was held in Toronto. To celebrate the event, the Greg Manning Company issued a booklet entitled “World Rarities at CAPEX ’78. It stated that the above stamp which Maresch had sold the year before had recently been sold by the Greg Manning Company and was now in the collection of an American from the East Coast.

The 12d Black stamp was issued 1851 for prepayment of the basic letter rate to Newfoundland or the British West Indies via Halifax, Liverpool and double-weight letters to the US.

Highest Prices – Used Copies

Lot 367
Oct. 12 2004

Lot 4
May 30 2006

Lot 629
Sept.30 2006

At the start of 2006, the highest price that had been paid for a used copy of the 12d black was $27,000. This doubled to $57,750 last May and then quadrupled to $229,600 this September. Seldom have we seen such a dramatic increase in price in such a short period.

Highest Prices - Mint Copies

Lot 763
May 10, 2006

Lot 182
Oct. 27, 1998

Lot 936
Mar. 10, 1999

With the exception of the copy of the Spink sale in 2002, the price for a mint 12d had never exceeded $100,000, even for the finest copies such as the above. Then, in 2006, it shot up to over $200,000 at the Sotheby's sale in New York last May.

Pairs of the 12d Black

Unitrade indicates in its catalogue that only three used pairs are known of the 12d Queen Victoria. We have the following information from our research files:

Sothebys, New York
Lot 18
September 27, 1977
Realized $40,000 US

Sotheby’s described this pair as having rich deep colour, large margins just touching at the top right. One of two remaining pairs that exist which are much rarer than the mint. A magnificent showpiece of great rarity. Ex Pack and Jepcott. Illustrated in Howe’s Canada handbook.

National Postal Museum, Ottawa
Lot COH 45
June 9,1978
CAPEX Exhibition

This pair was shown by at the 1978 Canadian International Philatelic Exhibition held in Toronto. It was described as a lower left mint marginal pair, imperforate, on laid paper and the only known corner pair.

Irwin Weinberg
Page 11
September 27, 1977
Offered at $200,000 US

Both this and the next pair came from the 1987 private sale of the John Foxbridge collection of British North America Imperforate Pence Issues. This pair had large even margins all around and original gum. An interesting note in the catalogue is that John Foxbridge was a pseudonym for a collector who in a few short years swept all international philatelic competitions. He set a standard of excellence which has seldom been equaled in history, never surpassed.

Irwin Weinberg
Page 12
September 27, 1977
Offered at $155,000 US

This second copy, also from the same sale, had large to huge margins on two sides including a small portion of the design of the adjoining stamp at top left. It came from the Pack and Hilmer collections

Charles G. Firby
Lot 169
October 29, 1988
Realized $150,000 US

This fourth pair, which is quite extraordinary, was described by Firby as the finest of the three surviving mint pairs and believed by many to be the most important philatelic treasure of Canada. A superb gem from the Sam Nickle and Dale-Lichtenstein collections. According to a report in the January, 1989 Canadian Philatelist, the last time the pair was sold at auction which was in 1968, it was purchased jointly by Jim Sissons and Bob Lyman for $39,000 U.S., a record for any Canadian stamp. These two dealers had decided to split the pair into two singles, each to take one and go their separate ways. A last minute decision to call prominent collector, Sam Nickle, resulted in a sale, and saved the superb pair.

Covers of the 12d Black

Robert A. Siegel, New York
Lot 14
April 23, 1996
$230,000 US

Our first record of this unique cover came from a report in the June 1, 1993 Canadian Stamp News. The cover had been sold in Christie’s Sam Nickle auction in March of that year for $224,500. The cover had been used to pay the double letter rate to the United States. The article ended: “all record prices eventually tumble and, in all likelihood, this all time record price paid for Canada’s most significant philatelic item will also be shattered”

How right the journalist was, three years later the same cover appeared at the Robert A. Siegel Sale of Classic Rarities in New York where it sold for $230,000 U.S. It was described as the finest of the two or three ”tied” examples, ie, it hadn’t been lifted from the envelope and reattached.


We, like so many other collectors, have been fascinated by this beautiful and rare Canadian stamp. The recent prices paid by international collectors have been amazing. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years as collectors of substantial means compete at auction for this very special stamp.

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©2006, Canadian Stamp Auctions Ltd., Montréal, Québec, Canada