Here’s a confession. In putting this series of articles together, I’ve been looking forward to this one in particular. And being candid I wanted to call this ‘The Philatelic King’, but the trouble is, as you well know, there are a number of proper Kings who are legendary collectors, not least King George V who will feature in his own article soon.

So, with a heavy heart, an all time stamp hero has been renamed “The Duke”.

Not bad, as this literally means ‘leader’, a word derived from the French ‘Duc’, and as you’re about to discover, regardless of a title, Philip Ferrari de La Renotière (1850 – 1917), known simple as “Ferrary” in the Philatelic world, is top of the list.

Let’s put it this way; Ferrary formed “The Greatest Collection Ever”. Full stop!

He was the first philatelist to assemble ‘all’ the world’s rarities complete. No one has done it since, and being candid, no-one can or will ever do it again. So you see, Ferrary is the first and foremost philatelic collector of all time, and will never be toppled.

The Sweden "Treskilling Yellow"

As you’d expect, he was a wealthy guy, inheriting 120,000,000 French Francs (₤5 million), and living in what is now the French Prime Minister’s residence; Hôtel Matignon in Paris, he wasted no time in getting to work on amassing a mouthwatering array of philatelic gems.

As well as acquiring the famous British Guiana 1856 1c Black on Magenta, which he bought in 1878 for £150, which we all know sold in 2014 for over USD $9.4m, his extremely rare stamps also featured the unique ‘Treskilling Yellow’ of Sweden for which he paid 4,000 Austro-Hungarian gulden and which sold at a David Feldman auction in 1996 for a staggering 2’875’000’00 Swiss Francs, featured left.


He also owned the stamp that someone would kill to own, the only unused example of the 1851 2c Hawaii Missionary, its onetime owner Gaston Leroux, was literally murdered for the stamp by a fellow collector. I could go on, the list is literally endless with all the stamp rarities, but the real story here is what happened to his collection after his death in 1917.

It had been Ferrary’s intention in his will of 1915, to bequeath it to “the German nation” for display in the Post Museum in Berlin. But World War I intervened and being an Austrian citizen in France he fled to Switzerland, where he died in 1917, leaving his collection behind in France. After the war the French government confiscated his collection, claiming it as a war reparation.

Ferrary’s collection was so large it took five years and 14 sales to sell. It was auctioned off between 1921 and 1926, and raised 30 million French Francs, and this resulted in his collection being dispersed around the world to many individual philatelists – quite literally scattered. Hence the reason why we will never see such a collection formed ever again. It was ironic, given that Ferrary’s wish was that his collection would be kept intact and be shared for all to appreciate after his death.

And as I promised, you’d come to realise why with a heavy heart that I call my King of Philately ‘The Duc’. It’s thanks to the French that Ferrary will never be known as anything less.

Next week our Legendary Collector #4 is English philatelist Thomas Tapling and you’ll be surprised to learn why he was the inspiration for our Duke Ferrary.

You can also read about our previous Legendary Collectors #1 and #2.