England’s desire to expand its territory grew in the early 12th century with conquests in the British Isles and continental Europe. As England’s power grew so did its ambitions. During the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509) there was a clear policy of expansion and discovery focused towards the ‘New World’. On 5 March 1496 Henry VII granted letters patent to John Cabot:

“To find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians.”

The Tudor expansion of English lands and voyages of discovery continued under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. These three Tudor monarchs would, through their support of the Royal and Merchant Navies, pave the way for what would become the British Empire. 

Lot 294: 1927 Newfoundland – De Pinedo 60 c. black – mint example in very fine conditions, well centered

The British Empire reached its zenith during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The phrase “the empire on which the sun never sets” was coined to describe a global power that controlled circa 23% of the worlds population and covered a quarter of the earth surface by 1913.

Lot 300: 1912/25 Ceylon – George V – 1000 r. grey-black – unmounted, top marginal sheet, superb and very rare

Britain’s expansion to every corner of the globe may have been founded in conquest and military might but it was trade and diplomacy that held it together. The spread of the English language, culture, judicial system and bureaucracy was key to the governing of a seemingly endless empire. The postal network became increasingly important for an empire administrated largely from London and as a result the Empires use of stamps exploded with every colony printing their own unique issues.

For 19th and 20th-century collectors who strove to collect stamps from all over the world, stamps issued in the colonies were highly coveted, due to both their exotic subjects and rareness. Even today, many collectors enjoy reconstructing, in their own way, the history and geography of the British Empire, like an encyclopedia made of bits of paper.

Harmers upcoming stamp auction, which will take place on 24 September in London will comprise mainly of rare stamps from Britain and the Commonwealth. Highlights of the sale include:

The Newfoundland 1927 De Pinedo Air Mail 60 cents black. This stamp, a mint example in very fine condition, commemorates the 1927 return flight from the Americas to Europe by the Marchese Francesco de Pinedo, as well as Henry VII’s 1496 charter to Cabot – as mentioned above. Pinedo is one of the most famous aviation pioneers and is without equal among the elite group of Italians who took to the skies. Only 300 were believed to have been printed and this example is one of only 33 mint examples known (Lot 294, Est: £15,000-20,000).

Another of the Newfoundland great issues offered in the upcoming auction is a 1930 Columbia Air Mail 50 cents on 36 cents sage-green (Lot 296, Est: £750-1,000).

Lot 349: 1912/23 Malaysia – Straits Settlements – George V – 100 d. black and Carmine/blue – lightly mounted

Lot 296: 1930 Newfoundland – “Columbia” 50 c./36 c. sage-green – lightly mounted.

In the kaleidoscope of colonial stamps, the two rare issues with the left profile of George V will be the focal point for many collectors and investors: the superb 1912-1925 Ceylon 1000 rupees (Lot 300, Est: £5,000-7,500) and the very rare 1912-23 Malaysia Straits Settlements 100 dollars black and carmine/blue. (Lot 349, Est: £1,500-2,000).

Another gem we must mention is the 1961 “St. Helena Tristan Relief Fund” complete set in block of four stamps (Lot 381, Est: £4,000-6,000). The ‘Tristan Relief’ set is one of the rarest modern stamps in existence with only 434 sold in total. These extremely scarce stamps were issued by the authorities of St. Helena to support the inhabitants of neighboring Tristan da Cunha (1,400 miles away!) after they were evacuated due to a volcanic eruption. The stamps were withdrawn from circulation soon after issue as the Governor had not sought permission from the Colonial Office in London, making them invalid.

Among the numerous other items that will catch the eye of enthusiasts is the 1888 cover sent from Sandakan, North Borneo to San Francisco, U.S.A. This is a spectacular and rare mixed franking of two North Borneo issues, including 1/2 cent, 1 cent, 2, 4, 8 and 10 cents stamps (Lot 288, Est: £1,750-2,000).

The auction will take place at the five-star Westbury Mayfair Hotel later this year.

Lot 381: 1961 St. Helena – Tristan Relif Fund – complete set in block of four – unmounted mint top right marginal sheet – very fine and scarce set