Nick Startup



Spink London, to be conducted behind closed doors, 29th April 2020
1856 Diadem 1d with watermark error “2”
1856 Diadem 2d with watermark error “1”
1860 2nd roulette 6d strip, one pair imperf between

The printing of millions of stamps has been an exact process since the issue of the first postage stamp, the Penny Black by Great Britain in 1840. However, occasionally printers make mistakes. The collecting of stamp printing errors have been enthusiastically hunted by generations of connoisseurs. Stamps printed double, missing perforations creating imperforate between errors, inverted overprints – all of these and more have been the focus of eagle-eyed collectors for over 150 years.

The Gary Diffen collection of the Errors of the Australian Colonies from 1850 to 1913 is the most comprehensive collection of these printing flaws ever assembled and will be auctioned by Spink over two sales in 2020.

The New South Wales holding is the most complete collection of errors of this colony ever assembled. For the first time, all the major watermark errors of the classic era will be offered in the one sale, with the two stamps featured below of special significance.

The imperforate Diadem series of 1856 comprise two of the rarest errors of New South Wales. The Diadem series was issued on paper with the watermark numerals aligning with their relevant values. The 1d vermillion was first recorded with Watermark “2” instead of Watermark “1” in 1935 when discovered by the old London stamp dealer Tommy Allen.

1872 3d on 4d with surcharge omitted

He retained it and sold it privately to another leading dealer, William Frazer. For over 80 years, this unique error, being the only example recorded, has been well held.

In addition, the 2d value of the series was discovered in 1892 with the error of watermark numeral “1” instead of “2”. This discovery example was purchased by King George V for the Royal Collection who highly prized Australian Colonial stamp errors. The Gary Diffen example was originally owned by another great collector in Charles Lathrop Pack, and has only been available to collectors on four occasions since his sale in 1944. Again, this is the only example recorded in private hands.

Although the 1871 De La Rue issues being offered for auction are small, with this collection being retained by Gary for his collection of this series, there are still some significant items for sale. The major piece is the 1882 3d Diadem perforation 11 imperforate between block of four. It is one of two blocks still in private hands. The Centennial, Federal period and Official issues are the most comprehensive to come to auction, with many unique items not recorded in contemporary literature. Some of these are available at only £100, providing opportunities for collectors of more modest means to obtain errors of great rarity.

1869 4d pair imperf vertically

The Queensland collection is dominated by the imperforate between errors of the Chalon and Sideface issues. More than any other colony, these errors have been distributed amongst many major collections, resulting in no one collection dominating the errors of Queensland. This sale contains the largest holding of these popular errors ever to come to auction with many notable examples.

One of the most popular items in the collection came to market by chance in 1925 in what became known as the Mayfair Find. In 1863-64, a young gentleman from Mayfair sent British Colonial postmasters £1 or £2 each and in return was sent large blocks of mint postage stamps. They lay dormant in the Mayfair attic until being discovered in a clear out in 1925. One of the superb mint blocks from Queensland contained twelve examples of the 2d value imperforate between. This block was quickly divided up after the 1923 sale, and over the years, collectors have mishandled some of these examples, resulting in some being faulty, and one pair unable to be traced. The block of eight comprising two pairs in the Diffen collection is the finest known and the largest multiple recorded of this error.

The 1880 Queensland Sideface imperforate between errors are exceptionally rare, with most examples being unique. All recorded values and shades are represented in the collection, with the 4d value being of particular rarity. This mint pair was first recorded in 1917 and has only rarely been available to collectors ever since.

The later issues of Queensland are virtually complete, with many outstanding rarities. Of
particular note are the Queensland Postal Fiscals with all the imperforate between errors recorded offered in this sale.

Finally, the colony of South Australia showcases the broad range of errors available in these primitive colonial issues through the postage, Departmental and Official stamps. The government of South Australia kept printing waste to a minimum with each printed sheet having to be accounted for. When mistakes were made during the printing process, each sheet was reused or re purposed, creating an abundance of errors, more than any other colony.

Many of the major errors are featured in the Diffen collection, and such a range of rarities has not been offered to the auction market since the Harry Napier sales of the mid 1970s. The provenance of many of the pieces can be traced to the Collins; Fryar; Mursell; Frenckle and Napier holdings … doyens of South Australian philately.

The Perkins Bacon issues are well represented with many unique items. Of particular note is the 1858 imperforate 2d blood-red printed on both sides, with only two examples in private hands, and last coming to market in 1958. Other notable rarities of the Perkins Bacon issue include the 1860 2d red printed both sides in a used block of six and the unique 6d greyultramarine imperforate between pair. Later perforated issues comprise many of the major watermarks; imperforate between and printed both sides errors. Included in this series is the most famous error from South

1883 Diadem perf 11 3d block with the first two columns imperforate between

Australia, the finest used example of the 1868 4d ultramarine with the “3 Pence” surcharge omitted. This dramatic error was first reported in the “Philatelic Record” in October 1879 and to date only eleven examples have been discovered, with four in institution collections.

This is one of the highlights of the collection. The middle period De La Rue issues from 1868 – 1903 are often neglected by collectors, however there are many outstanding rarities in this series. The Diffen collection comprises the most complete holding of the imperforate between errors ever formed, providing the astute collector the opportunity to possess many of these unique items for very modest prices.

The Federal period contains most of the imperforate between errors from the popular Long Stamps series. Of particular note is the 1902 3d, comprising two stamps with “POSTAGE” omitted in a superb marginal mint block of four. Another rarity is the 1906 9d imperforate vertically in a horizontal strip of three.

The South Australian Departmental stamps have long been popular with collectors. Many of the errors have been well held over the past decades since the sale of the Napier collection by Robson Lowe in the 1970s. This small but important holding has many of the imperforate between and printed both sides errors. Of particular note is the 1868 Colonial Secretary 4d value overprinted “CS” in black printed on both sides. Recorded by Colonel Napier in the 1920s, only three examples have been recorded. The imperforate between errors of the Departmental stamps are very rare, with the 1868 2d overprinted “P” in black for the Police imperforate  between. The finer of one of only two recorded examples.

The sale is rounded out with a comprehensive selection of “OS” overprint errors, including overprints double, inverted, sideways and other combinations. Given their modest catalogue prices, traditionally these errors have been lumped and auctioned in to collection lots, with very few offered individually. Their rarity is being reassessed by collectors, and Spink are offering collectors the opportunity to acquire many of these rarities in mint and used condition very inexpensively. This will be the first time any auction house has marketed such a comprehensive holding of these issues, and it is expected to generate considerable interest from new collectors entering a virtually untouched field to seasoned collectors looking to add to their holdings.

With many of the major errors of the Australian Colonies contained in the Diffen collection, collectors have an unusual opportunity to acquire pieces that have not been to market, in some cases, for over twenty years. Part II of the errors collection, featuring Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australian will be offered in the Autumn of 2020.

The Gary Diffen Collection of Australian Colonies Errors Part I will be offered for sale at Spink London, behind closed doors, on 29th April 2020. For further information please contact Nick Startup, [email protected].

1862 2d block imperf between horizontally
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