Four and a half crore rupees can get you a lot! It can get you a spanking new Mercedes S-Class and a few more, a comfortable apartment or... a strip of stamps? Yes, if they are among the rarest of the rare, featuring one of the most revered world figures of the 20th century.
In 2017, a strip of rare Rs 10 Mahatma Gandhi service stamps smashed records for the most expensive Indian stamps sold, at a private auction. This strip of four stamps was sold to an Australian collector for USD 668,510 (about Rs 4.4 crore).
Around six years earlier, in 2011, the David Feldman Stamp Auction House in Geneva, Switzerland sold one Rs 10 Mahatma Gandhi service stamp for a World Record price of 144,000 Euros (equivalent to about Rs. 1.5 crore).
This is the highest price ever paid for a single Indian stamp yet. So what made these stamps such a Special Delivery?
Well to begin with, these stamps are among the earliest printed in the history of independent India. Also the peculiar circumstances in which they were printed, as well as many firsts associated with them, make them highly prized collectibles, thereby commanding a price far greater than their original modest denominations.
As an activist, revolutionary thinker and the foremost national figure in the Indian independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi had made an indelible imprint on world consciousness. Hence, the government of newly independent India decided to issue stamps in his honour. The plan was to release them sometime in early 1948, and the Indian Security Press in Nashik was entrusted with the responsibility. However, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30th January, 1948, before they could be issued.
The bereaved Indian government scrapped the original plan and decided to issue a fresh set of stamps in his memory, to be released on 15th August 1948, coinciding with the first anniversary of Indian independence. These stamps were designed and printed by the world renowned stamp printers, Courvoisier, in their printing works at LaChaux-de Fonds, Switzerland, making them the only Indian stamps printed in a foreign land.
There were a lot of other firsts with this stamp issue. These were also the first ‘commemorative stamps’ of independent India. Four sets of stamps with denominations 1.5 annas, 3.5 annas, 12 annas and Rs 10 were issued in brown, violet, grey-green and purple-brown colors respectively. The word ‘Bapu’ was printed on the stamps in Hindi and Urdu languages, as a symbol of communal harmony, which made them the first post-independence issues bearing Urdu scripts. The new photogravure process (printing an direct image on stamp wherein it is etched into a plate using a photographic process) was also employed for the first time in the sheet containing 50 stamps, in 5 horizontal rows of 10 stamps each, in all denominations.
The rarest among these were the special purple-brown set of Rs 10 Mahatma Gandhi stamps were printed-over with the word ‘SERVICE’, only 100 copies of which were ever printed and issued. These were not meant to be in circulation, and were handed over to C. Rajagopalachari, the Governor General of India, and the Indian Head of State, before the office of the President of India came into existence. A few were given to dignitaries while most, including an intact sheet of 50, were gifted to various institutions like the Indian Postal archives.
Less than 8 copies of the Rs 10 Mahatma Gandhi Service stamps reside in private hands today, and it is these which keep turning up at auctions, triggering bidding wars that go in crores of rupees. Combined with the fact that they were not available to the public, the low print run of the 10 Rupees service stamps makes them some of the rarest in Indian history and so the most desired.
They will not be returned to sender for sure!
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