Every week we have pleasure in telling collectors that they have successfully won stamps in our sales. I was reading Nicholas Courtney’s outstanding work “The Queen’s Stamps” when I came upon a delightful account of how one of the Empires greatest stamps was added to the Royal Collection in early 1904.
The story of the Mauritius 1847 “Post Office” classics is well known. These glorious stamps, the first of the British Empire, were printed for use on invitations to a ball at Government House on Mauritius, held to foster relations between the French and British planters.
Only four unused 2d’s exist, the finest example was discovered in the schoolboy collection of a Mr James Bonar who, whilst working in Hampstead, North London, came across the pocket book which had served as his childhood stamp album. He was about to give the little album to his grandson when his friend Miss D. Thomas came to dine. Aware of her interest in philately Bonar showed her the album which, apart from the Mauritius page, did not interest her.
To her amazement a beautiful example (it would turn out to be the best known) of the first 2d blue Mauritius stamp had been glued to the page. She advised Bonar to take advice and the old stamp auctioneering firm of Puttick and Simpson were called in.
To much publicity the stamp was offered in their 13 January 1904 auction, it was then that the Prince of Wales (later King George V) heard about it and he offered them £1200 to withdraw the stamp. They declined.
The Prince replied to his agent:
"I return you Mr Bonar’s letter. I am sorry that I cannot buy this Mauritius stamp direct from him, but I understand the reasons given by Messrs Puttick and Simpson. I am still very anxious to have the stamp and now authorise you or an agent to bid for it at the auction up to £1,550 inclusive. I am particularly keen to buy the stamp although it does seem a great deal of money to give for it. I suppose of course you have seen the stamp & can guarantee that it is genuine. I hope your prophecy that it will fetch just over £1,000 will be correct & Puttick & Simpson will be wrong. You better see Sir William Carrington & show him this letter & ask him to give you the sum I have named. When does the sale take place, sometime in January I understand.
I hope we shall be successful,
Very sincerely yours,
As the sale approached the royal stamp collector became more concerned, he wrote another letter:
"Many thanks for your letter & for sending me the catalogue of the sale with which I was much interested. I see there are some other rather nice Mauritius stamps besides the ‘Post Office’ to be sold. You might send me another catalogue after the sale with the sums that each stamp fetched written against them which would be very interesting. I feel just as keen about possessing this stamp as I did before and wish you every success. I shall be waiting anxiously after the 13th to hear what you were able to do.
Very sincerely yours,
The Princes concern seems to have peaked with his third letter:
"... I hear from Sir W. Carrington that he has given you the money I named & armed with that, I wish you every success & trust you may be able to obtain the stamp for £1,200. I entirely approve of your getting any other of the Mauritius stamps you can at the sale, providing they go fairly cheap, I agree with you in thinking that it would be a pity to miss this opportunity of securing some of these good stamps. I see that there are as many as 38 lots all Mauritius. I hope you will not forget to send me a catalogue after the sale, with price put against each lot & marked with a X the ones you bought for me, it would interest me very much to see what they fetched. I also see there are two rather fine Newfoundland stamps in same sale, in fact, I leave it to you to bid for whatever you think I most want. You can send me a telegram here [York Cottage] on Wednesday if you have secured the ‘Post Office’. Better say merely ‘Stamp is yours’ & write later full particulars.
Wishing you good luck
Very sincerely yours
“The Stamp is Yours” probably indicated that the Prince did not want anyone in the Royal Household to know what he’d been up to!
The day of the sale arrived and the Princes agent won the lot for £1450, a world record.
It was reported, and the Prince of Wales was known to have retold the tale of an Equerry telephoning him about something and having finished adding “I know how interested Your Royal Highness is in stamps. Did you happen to see some damned fool has given as much a £1400 for one stamp?” A quiet restrained voice answered “I was the damned fool”
This is a much foreshortened account, and I recommend that anyone who loves stamps treats his or herself to a copy of Mr Courtneys excellent book, published in 2004. In my opinion one of the greatest books on the history of stamps and stamp collecting ever written.