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Rare Swiss stamps go on sale

One of the world's rarest stamp collections is going under the hammer in Zurich today. The 24 items include stamps dating from 1843, just three years after the first ones were issued in Britain.

The collection took more than 20 years to build up and is the work of a Canadian philatelist with close associations with Switzerland and Geneva.

The collection includes three double Geneva stamps more than 150 years old which was used to send post within the canton of Geneva. It derives its name from the fact that half of the stamp was used for local postage and the double stamp was used for cantonal postage.

"It's one of the most fantastic items in Swiss philately," says auctioneer, David Feldman. "What's most significant is the notation at the top of the sheet that explains the use of the stamps."

The Geneva doubles last changed hands in 1992 and fetched more than SFr650,000. The whole collection is expected to bring in up to SFr2.5 million when it goes under the hammer at Zurich's Swiss Hotel.

It also includes a flimsy and faded envelope bearing a dark green Large Eagle stamp addressed to Madame Rochat in the Geneva commune of Coutance. It is postmarked November 25, 1848.

Switzerland became the third country to issue stamps, in 1843, following the lead of Britain and Brazil. Since then stamps have become big business with major institutions seeing them as a safe bet in investment terms.

But smaller collectors are losing out as the philately world becomes dominated by the bigger players.

"The market itself is very selective", said Feldman. "There are a lot of collectors looking for special items which they want to include in their collections and those items fetch a very high price. But ordinary items are much more difficult to sell and prices are fairly flat."

swissinfo with agencies