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Commonwealth & World

Commonwealth collection sees light after 90 years

It’s not every day that a stamp collection comes to light after spending more than 90 years in complete darkness. However, this was the case during the Charterhouse auction of 15–16 March when a collection of stamps that has spent over nine decades stored in a safety deposit box in a bank vault was offered for sale.

The collection comprised booklets of stamps collected by Colonel R H Whitwell as a present for his Godson, Robert Smyth-Osbourne.

The stamps were carefully wrapped up and put away in a bank vault in 1926. Attached to the packets were notes with the message, ‘Stamps not to be opened till 1950 … Mr Robert Smyth-Osbourne … from his Godfather Col. R H Whitwell Sept 17th 1926.’ Quite why they were not to be opened until 1950 remains a mystery, as does why Robert did not open them when instructed.

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The owner of the stamps, Robert Smyth-Osbourne’s daughter, brought the collection into Charterhouse in February 2018 during one of the company’s valuation days. On unwrapping the packets, it was discovered that the collection was mostly comprised of Commonwealth stamps from the 1850s to the 1920s. South Africa, Gibraltar, Cyprus, Australia and Canada featured, including a set of 16 Canadian 1897 Queen Victoria Jubilee stamps, from ½c. to $5. Richard Bromell of Charterhouse commented, ‘What struck me immediately was the post office fresh colours on all the stamps as they had not seen daylight for nearly 100 years. It is a fabulous lot the quality of which rarely comes on the market.’

The stamps in the collection were bought from stamp dealers and auctioneers in the early to mid-1920s, including Stanley Gibbons, with some letters relating to the purchase of the stamps included in the collection. At the time, many of the sets cost £2–£5 each – much more than a week’s wages for many workers.

Among the lots was an unused 1925 French Paris Exposition sheet, with four 5f. stamps, which sold for £15, an unused set of 16 1913–14 Australian stamps, ½d. to £1 in a small Army & Navy Co-operative Society book, which achieved £680 and a set of 16 1897 Canada Queen Victoria Jubilee stamps, ½c. to $5, which sold for £1500.

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