One of world's rarest stamps is going up for auction this weekend and could fetch a record-breaking price, the head of a Geneva auction house said.
The Swedish "Treskilling Yellow" is believed to be the only surviving misprint of an 1855 three shilling stamp that was supposed to be green. It has fabled status among collectors and is considered one of the world's most valuable objects pound for pound.
"I'm hoping it will be a new record," auctioneer David Feldman said Friday. He oversaw its last official sale in 1996 for 2.875 million Swiss francs (then about NZ$3.3m).
Saturday's auction will involve several undisclosed telephone bidders whose credentials have been checked, Feldman told The Associated Press.
All who take part have been sworn to secrecy, but the buyer will have the right to decide whether his name and the purchase price can be revealed after the sale, said Feldman.
The Treskilling Yellow is "one of about a half dozen highly notorious stamps in the world," according to noted US stamp expert Robert Odenweller.
The 1856 "British Guiana 1 cent Magenta" is the best-known of all unique stamps, but has been locked away in a vault since 1980 when it was bought for nearly US$1 million by John du Pont. The heir to the du Pont chemical fortune is currently serving a 13 to 30-year sentence for third degree murder.
The Treskilling Yellow has changed hands at least once since 1996, but little is known about the current owner.
"It's always been shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. I couldn't even guess at this moment," said Odenweller, a past president of the Collectors Club of New York.
Feldman, the auctioneer, declined to name the seller but hinted that necessity may have forced the owner to part with the stamp.
"I can disclose that the current owner gave the item as a pledge, as a financial security," Feldman told the AP. "This is a realisation of the security."
The Treskilling Yellow is said to have been found in 1885 by a Swedish schoolboy among a pile of letters left by his grandparents. Odenweller said the story may be apocryphal, as a similar tale is told about the 1 cent Magenta.
He said it was impossible to accurately appraise stamps such as the Treskilling Yellow because "value is what somebody wants to pay for it." Nor would he predict who might buy it.
But for those who can afford it, the stamp would be a prize possession even in times of economic downturn.
"The people who are willing to spend that kind of money have themselves fairly well cushioned," said Odenweller.