Stamps are unique to the world of collection. Value is driven by demand, but because so few people collect, extremely expensive stamps can fly under the radar. Chances are, for example, you have never heard of the “Treskilling Yellow,” one of the most expensive pieces of paper ever.
The Treskilling Yellow, also known as the “three-schilling banco error of color,” is one of the rarest postage stamps. Only one is known to exist and its existence was due to a printing error. When the stamp was last sold, it was assessed to be worth over $1.5 million.
Discovered by accident, over its existence, the Treskilling Yellow has been subject to secret sales, ownership by princes, and much intrigue. It was even thought for a while that the one example in existence was an expensive fraud. Read on to get the facts about this interesting philately artifact.
What Is The Treskilling Yellow?
The Treskilling Yellow is the rarest stamp currently in existence and was the result of a production mistake. There is only one that is known to exist and was last valued at $1.5 million. This stamp has had many owners from royalty to extreme collectors.
It was cancelled at Nya Kopparberget (Kopparberg) in 1857. Over the years, it has been owned by playboys, at least one prince, a King, businesspeople, more than one “secret” corporation and most recently, an actual stamp collector. It sold in 2010, at auction, for an estimated cost more than $1.5 million.
How It Started
Sweden commissioned a set of five stamps in 1855 that featured the Swedish Coat of Arms. The denominations of the stamps were spread out from 3 to 24 Swedish skillings. Three skilling stamps were printed in a blue-green color. Eight-skilling stamps were printed in yellowish-orange.
No one knows for sure what happened, but apparently, a mistake was made at some point in the production process. The most likely scenario was that an eight-skilling plate was damaged and was mistakenly replaced with a three-skilling plate. The result was a three-skilling plate printed in eight-skilling yellowish-orange.
That might not seem like a big mistake, and it seems it was caught very quickly. The fact it was caught quickly, however, made that range of stamps unbelievably valuable. No one knows for sure how many stamps were created with the mistake, but only one has ever been found. That makes the Treskilling Yellow Stamp one of the rarest pieces of paper in existence.
At the time, no one noticed the error, or more likely, it was caught but not all the examples were pulled from the stamp print run and destroyed. At any rate, in 1886, a collector named Georg Wilhelm Backman discovered the Treskilling Yellow Stamp in a relative’s attic when he was looking for covers for his own collection. He took the stamp to a dealer and sold it for seven Kronor.
Philipp von Ferrary
After the initial sale, which was for a lot of money for a young man in Sweden at the time, the stamp was sold repeatedly. In 1894, Philipp von Ferrary, a wealthy prince, purchased the stamp for 4,000 Austro-Hungarian gulden. When he bought the Treskilling Yellow, he owned the rarest and most expensive stamp collection in existence.
While many people tried to find other examples of the mistake, none were found. It was slowly realized that the one Treskilling Yellow might be the only one of its kind in existence. That made it beyond rare and extremely valuable. Ferrary’s collection was sold at auction in the 1920s and a series of stamp ownership commenced. Here is a brief summary:
- 1926: Claes A. Tamm bought it for £1,500 sterling to fill out his Swedish stamp collection
- 1928: Attorney Johan Ramberg purchased it for £2,000 and attempted on several levels to monetize the already valuable stamp to moderate success
- 1937: King Carol II of Romania purchased it from a London Auction House for £5,000
- 1950: Rene Berlingen purchased it for an unknown amount of money
Was The Treskilling Yellow Fake?
In the mid-1970s, the Swedish Postal Museum questioned the authenticity of the stamp. It declared it to be a forgery and caused an uproar given the stamp’s reputation and how much it has sold for over the course of decades. After extensive investigation and examination, by two commissions, the Treskilling Yellow was found to be a genuine stamp. After that, the value of the stamp rose drastically.
1984 – 2010
Collector David Feldman bought the stamp in 1984 for 977,500 Swiss francs. It was then sold in 1990 for over $1,000,000, and again, in 1996 for 2.8 million Swiss francs. Every time it was sold it set a record for most expensive stamp sale in history.
In 2010, an “international consortium” purchased the stamp at auction for a “at least $2.3 million,” which was a record at the time. The exact price has never been disclosed. Every bidder has been sworn to secrecy although the auctioneer let slip that the sale was the most expensive in history. Since then, the buyer has been revealed as Armand Rousso, a wealthy collector.
Count Gustaf Douglas
The stamp was sold again in 2013. It was purchased by Count Gustaf Douglas, who is a Swedish nobleman and politician. It is suspected that the sale price set another record. While the exact details are secret, leaks to the press put the sale price at more than $2 million. Douglas is one of the wealthiest people in Sweden and to date, the stamp is in his possession.
6 Interesting Facts About The Treskilling Yellow
While it is not cloak and dagger stuff, the lineage of the Treskilling Yellow is truly fascinating. Listed below are a few interesting facts about the stamp and its journey to its current status as one of the rarest and most expensive stamps in existence.
1. It Was The Subject Of A Bizarre Lawsuit
In 2012, Baron Jean-Claude Pierre Ferdinand Gunther Andre and his wife brought a lawsuit in the London’s High Court of Justice against Clydesdale Bank PLC alleging that the bank had lost nine Treskilling Yellow stamps.
Andre claimed he stored a trunk at the bank that contained six covers with nine stamps and that the trunk had been broken into and the stamps stolen while the trunk was in bank control. Former Treskilling Yellow stamp owner David Feldman claimed the value of the covers would have exceeded $3.7 million.
In 2013, the court rejected Andre’s claim and found him and his wife “unreliable witnesses.” Further it offered the opinion that their story suffered from “sheer inherent implausibility.” If the claim were true and provable, the impact on the stamp collecting world would have been immense. It is likely the value of the original stamp would have dropped, although it still would have been very valuable.
2. The Treskilling Yellow Stamp Was Shown In A Movie
The 1963 movie, Charade, showed the Treskilling Yellow stamp portrayed as a red Fyrskilling stamp although the print date was cited incorrectly. Additionally, the value of the stamp was exaggerated, although not by the standards it eventually sold for.
3. It has Been On TV
The Treskilling Yellow Stamp is featured as the target of a theft in the television series White Collar, Season 6, Episode 2. In that episode, one of the stars must infiltrate a gang of thieves and help steal the stamp. A detailed view of the stamp is shown as a forgery is made.
4. It Is One Of The Most Expensive Objects In The World
By weight, the Treskilling Yellow Stamp is worth over $100 billion dollars. It has sold for millions as a stamp. Based on both those facts, it is one of the most expensive items ever created. The Treskilling Yellow will also become only more valuable with time.
5. Phillipp von Ferrary Owned Three Incredibly Rare And Valuable Stamps
When he purchased the Treskilling Yellow in 1894, his collection also contained the 1856 British Guiana 1c Magenta stamp and the only 1851 Hawaii Missionary Cover as well as the only cover in existence that showed both Mauritius Post Office stamps values. It was, by far, the most expensive stamp collection in history.
6. The Founder Is A Little Murky
No one knows for sure the real story of Georg Wilhelm Backman, at least as it applies to his status as a collector and how he came to find the stamp. In one version, he is a child rifling through things in an attic. In another, he is a collector looking at envelopes in an attic looking for interesting covers to add to his collection.
One iteration of the story claims he had no clue what he had discovered and another claims he knew almost immediately it was a mistake. Even the amount is told in different ways. The most popular version is that it sold for a lot of money at the time for a kid. Another version says it was a pittance and Backman was taken advantage of by an unscrupulous dealer.
This is only important because of what the stamp is and what it has sold for through the years. If the dealer took advantage of Backman, it is one of the most expensive swindles in history. If, though, as is likely, it was not a dishonest deal, both the dealer and Backman lost out on something very valuable.
The Treskilling Yellow is a fascinating, incredibly rare and valuable stamp that was created accidentally in 1855. It is known to be the only one in existence and since its discovery, has sold for millions of dollars. The infamous stamp has seen many owners and will likely see many more.