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Wil puts its stamp on world of philately

This Basel Dove is one of several at the auction

Collectors and investors from near and far are descending on the small town of Wil in eastern Switzerland for the largest stamp auction anywhere this year.

This content was published on May 6, 2007 - 13:20

Coming under the hammer are several significant collections as well as rare stamps from Switzerland issued before the country had a national post service.

The event, which began on Monday and is organised by the Rapp auction house, lasts for four days and will see stamps with an estimated total value of SFr15 million ($12.38 million) on sale.

Stamps and letters from "Old Switzerland" - that means from around the mid-19th century - are experiencing a big boom at present, with prices rising rapidly.

"We have people [coming] from all countries where the economy is doing rather well," the organiser of the auction, Marianne Rapp Ohmann told swissinfo.

"Our customers are mainly from European countries but stamps collectors are coming increasingly from, for example, Asia. It's interesting that people from these countries are collecting Swiss stamps."

Basel Dove

Rapp Ohmann said the auction would attract collectors dealers, agents who buy for others, and even people who weren't collectors but who wanted, for example, a Basel Dove - the world's first tri-coloured stamp, which has become something of a magnet.

The auction includes several letters and individual stamps featuring the Basel Dove, another attraction is a collection of stamps devoted to the flight history of Germany and another highlight is a letter with an incorrect Double Geneva, valued at SFr100,000-SFr120,000.

To acquire the stamps, the Wil auction house staff are often on the move.

"My father, I and other staff travel a lot, particularly in Germany, Austria, France, the Netherlands and Italy, but also Britain and overseas, to see clients personally who want to sell stamps," said Rapp Ohmann. "We make an assessment and give them advice on how to sell."

Peter Rapp, owner of the auction house told swissinfo that the stamp business was all about "trust and competence".

"Over the years we've built up a reputation and can find internationally-known items [to auction] because we can get results," he said.

"Secret world"

Rapp explained that he entered the auction business because of the stamp collecting passion of his grandfather Hans, who was at pains to introduce him into the "secret world of stamps."

"As a young man I had a very good training in what was then the biggest auction house in Germany. I had a world-renowned teacher, a super expert in philately... and I was able to spend two years of intensive schooling with him."

He recalls that it was "very, very difficult" at the beginning and was a little apprehensive about whether anyone would turn up at his first auction held in a conference room of Zurich railway station in 1971.

"My joy was all the more as a young 26-year-old in this business when I carried out the auction in front of a packed room."

It made a turnover of SFr720,000, a considerable amount for the time.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes in Wil

Key facts

The Rapp auction house has been in business for more than 35 years.
During that time, Peter Rapp has auctioned stamps with a total value of more than SFr400 million.
Rapp has an entry in the Guinness Book of Records: world's largest stamp auction (SFr33 million in 1980).
Auction dates: May 7-10

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Swiss stamp history

The first stamps in Switzerland were issued by cantons Zurich, Geneva and Basel in the 1840s.

The Zurich issue first went on sale in March 1843, making it the second type of stamp in the world after Britain's Penny Black (1840).

Geneva came out with the Double Geneva in October 1843. It was designed for both local and cantonal mail and only 6,000 were printed.

The much-loved Basel Dove was issued in 1845. It features a white embossed dove carrying a letter in its beak. It is printed in black, crimson and blue.

The first federal stamps were issued for use across the country in 1850.

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