The world’s rarest stamps have much in common other than their unique nature: they are all enigmatic and have an unmistakable glamour surrounding their existence. From the famous British Guiana One-Cent Magenta, which currently holds the title as philately’s most expensive stamp at 8 million US dollars, to the Swedish Treskilling Yellow and the Mauritius Post Office issue – all which break the multi-million price realisation –, they have their own intriguing tale and all reside in that iconic philatelic realm reserved for the most valuable stamps on the planet. The stamps mentioned above have all at one time or another appeared on the open-market in more recent years, and as such are arguably better known than another stamp which more than shares their attributes and which can be known as “The Most Valuable Stamp of Asia”.
The Japan 1871 500mon Center Inverted is as legendary and mysterious as any of the most expensive philatelic items of the world, albeit the sales pertaining to this stamp are shrouded in secrecy. Its first public appearance was in 1973 when it was sold at a public auction to an anonymous, at the time, Japanese collector for $75,000. That collector was in fact none other than Ryohei Ishikawa, the six time Grand Prix winning philatelist whose collections of Hong Kong, Hawaii and more especially Classic United States claim fame as the greatest collections of their time. Ishikawa carved out a reputation as the great promoter of philately and stated; “I consider this stamp the most valuable in Asian philately, and for an Asian collector like myself, the most valuable stamp in the world. I would have paid any price to obtain it”.
Ryohei Ishikawa, Japanese collector, loves to acquire the greatest rarities of his homeland. So it was no wonder when Japan’s greatest rarity, the 1871 500 mon with center inverted, surfaced for the first time at public auction he would be destined as the buyer.
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Since the 1970’s its status as one of the world’s greatest philatelic gems has never been disputed, being compared to similar items of this ilk which have sold in the last decade for millions. Given that the One-Cent Magenta sold in 1970 for $280’000 to Irwin R. Weinberg, in 1980 for $935’000 to John E. du Pont, and most recently to Stanley Gibbons for over $8m, it does not take much extrapolation to calculate that the Japan 1871 500mon Center Inverted would have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars already in the 1980’s. Today what would its value be?; certainly if compared to the later inverted centers such as the unique USA 1918 24c Inverted Jenny Plate Number Block Four, which sold in 2021 for over $4m, it does not look out of place at millions of dollars, but there exist multiple examples of the single stamp. It is easily far more comparable to the British Guiana One Cent Magenta as the unique example.
However, it has three important characteristics that may extend this treasured item beyond that comparison. Firstly, it is a First Issue stamp, i.e. from the first issue of Japan and even its highest face value at 500mon; first issues are always considered more important. Secondly, it comes from a country with a great philatelic tradition and large population, which has historically and till today commanded an important position in the international philatelic world. But, perhaps the third attribute is the most significant with respect to its place in a league of great rarities – that it is indisputably the most valuable stamp of Asia, a region whose financial importance has grown enormously in the last decades.
Given these considerations, it should be no surprise to imagine its value eventually greater even than that of the British Guiana One Cent. Indeed David Feldman, having auctioned more million dollar stamps than any other company in the history of philately, commented; “I see no reason why this great rarity would not become the most valuable stamp in the world.”
The good news is that we will soon get to know exactly what it is worth, because it will feature in the David Feldman International Auction sale in the beginning of June 2023, where it makes only its third public appearance since its discovery in 1953. Undoubtedly following this groundbreaking sale, it will then take its place in the current list of the world’s most valuable stamps, which is where in truth it has resided since its first sale in 1973.