A treasure discovered in a book in 1931 - Part II

 This article is the continuation of the article « A treasure discovered in a book in 1931, part I ». It deals in particular with the La Fayette sale which took place in 2003 and in which the block of 4 of 1 vermilion franc tête-bêche was in sale.

1 - Cut this rough diamond

2 - Théodore Champion (1873-1954)

3 - In the hands of the most prestigious collectors

4 - The sale of the prestigious La Fayette collection

1/ Cut this rough diamond

A block of stamps of this size is extraordinary, but a stamp dealer immediately asks himself how he can make the most money out of it. To facilitate its sale and get the most money out of it, it will be necessary to cut this block into several pieces. A sacrilege will say some, a necessary evil will say others...

This block is therefore sold by Mr. Boscus to Mr. Champion through Mr. Georges Behr who cuts it into 1 block of 8, 2 vertical pairs, 3 horizontal pairs and 1 block of 4 which includes the tête-bêche.

2/ Théodore Champion (1873-1954)

The first owner of the block of 4 of the 1 franc vermilion tête-bêche was Théodore Champion.

In 1899, he arrived in Paris and became an employee of the stamp dealer Forbin. He will buy this business in 1902 which is located at 13 rue Drouot in Paris in a district which was for a long time the nerve center of the Parisian philatelic trade as the concentration of stamp dealers was important there. This stamp shop still exists today and still bears his name.

Théodore Champion's stamps shop, 13 rue Drouot, Paris.

This Mr. Champion had the distinction of also being a champion (it can’t be invented !!) international cyclist. He was notably Swiss champion on several occasions.

He manages to impose the collection of mint stamps while the collectors of the beginning of the 20th century collect them canceled. He quickly became the most important Parisian stamp dealer, and was elected a member of the Academy of Philately in 1948.

Liechtenstein stamp (1969) : Theodore Champion.

Théodore Champion dies in 1954. The block of 4 is sold to Mr. Ballat, about whom we have little information. It was around this time that the block was ungummed. This practice was common because collectors feared that the gum would alter the fresh color of a stamp.

3/ In the hands of the most prestigious collectors

The block of 4 will then pass into the collection of Mr. Maurice Burrus (1882-1959), politician and from a wealthy family of tobacco industrialists, who was one of the first members of the Academy of Philately in 1928.

Maurice Burrus (1882-1959).

 In 1955, he was invited to sign the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists. His collection was known to include the rarest Swiss and French stamps.

In 1959, the majority of the French stamps in his collection were bought by General Robert Joshua Gill (1889-1983) from Baltimore, a great collector of French stamps whose collection had won a gold medal at the FIPEX in New York in 1956.

General Robert J Gill (1889-1983).

Gill exhibited its masterpiece in Washington at the SIPEX exhibition in 1966, where it won the international grand prize.

In 1974, Duane Hilmer bought the block of 4. Hilmer exhibited it at Arphila in 1975 (Paris) and Interphil in 1976 (Philadelphia).

In 1991, it will be sold at auction by David Feldman to a buyer who is said to be American without further information. 

1991 - Auction D. Feldman SA, lot 80014, start 300,000 Swiss francs and sold for CHF 437,000.

The eminent philatelist Norman Hubbard places in his prestigious list of Aristocrats of Philately this block of stamps among the 10 greatest rarities in world philately.

4/ The prestigious La Fayette collection

In 2003, the Spink house, founded in 1666, world leader in auctions of collectibles and the Behr house, founded in 1920, specialist in rare French stamps were commissioned to disperse a private collection made up of the greatest rarities of stamps French classics. According to the "Times" of London, this collection belongs to a wealthy American industrialist who wishes to remain anonymous and who has chosen the pseudonym of "La Fayette". In this collection, there is the famous block of 4 Ceres 1 franc vermilion tête-bêche.

The auction took place on Monday, November 17, 2003 at the Intercontinental Le Grand Hôtel Paris.

Catalogue SPINK BEHR, collection La Fayette (2003).

Estimated between 600,000 and 800,000 euros, it was sold to a French buyer whose name hasn’t been disclosed for 820,000 euros (907,000 euros / 1 ,030, 000 dollars including buyer's premium).

Newspaper Le Monde Argent, Nov. 23-24, 2003, M. Behr interview.
Pascal Behr : "I refuse to divulge the names of the buyers, indicating only that they are 80% French private collectors, all under 55 years old. As for the new owner of the famous block of 4, he is a wealthy French businessman who spends a lot of time with his collection. I believe he had come to buy this piece." Pascal Behr is the son of Bernard Behr (1924-2022), and grandson of Georges Behr who founded the family company and cut the block of 20.

Prices realised including buyer's premium. Lot 50 is the tête-bêche.

Reference : Auction catalogue, La Fayette collection, Paris, Nov. 17, 2003.