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Zurich Asia
The 'Small One Dollar' stamp

SEPTEMBER 10, 2010, 2:55 PM HKT

This weekend, a sheet of "Red Monkeys" and a small one dollar stamp are expected to cause a stir at auction in Hong Kong.

Auctioneers Zurich Asia have put an estimate of HK$2.5 million to HK$3 million on the extremely rare Chinese one dollar stamp, from 1897 — only 33 to 34 are known to exist today.

By contrast, the sheet of 80 Red Monkey stamps is far less rare and less ancient, but the stamps are very popular. "It is the most popular stamp in China," says Louis Mangin, the director Zurich Asia. "This is the king of stamps in China."

Zurich Asia
A page of the 1980 'Red Monkey' stamps

Five million Red Monkey stamps are in circulation. Its popularity stems from its appearance — black monkeys on an auspicious red background — and because they were issued in 1980, the year of the Golden Monkey, a lucky year in the Chinese zodiac that comes around only once every 60 years.

Mr. Mangin has little doubt that the Red Monkey stamps will sell to a mainland Chinese buyer for an estimated 1 million Hong Kong dollars a sheet. In recent years, stamp collecting has become more popular in China, in step with the country's growing wealth. "They're purchasing power is greater. They became wealthy so fast, they can afford it," he says.

Collectors in China tend to focus on modern stamps that are popular like the Red Monkey, or extremely rare Chinese stamps.

In the stamp world, rarity usually means that few survive today or the stamp was originally printed with an error. The "Small One Dollar," fits both categories.

The story behind the single stamp goes back to 1897, when the Chinese post office began to run out of postage stamps. That year, it took some government-issued revenue stamps, which were used to pay fines and government fees, and converted them into postage stamps by printing over them.

In the case of the Small One Dollar stamp, the post office took two pages of a 3-cent revenue stamp and overprinted them with "one dollar" in English and Chinese — each page had 25 stamps. The Chinese print proved too small to read, so they changed the overprint to a larger type size. Those stamps, called the "Large One Dollar," are collectibles, and one is worth about HK$20,000 to HK$30,000. But that's a fraction of what the small one dollar stamp at Zurich Asia is expected to bring in this weekend.

Says Mr. Mangin, "Of all the single Small One Dollars, this is one of the nicest I've seen. Mint condition."

– Nellie S. Huang. Follow her on Twitter @nellieshuang

Source:The King of Stamps in China

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