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Valira Torrent:   Contents | Subject index

Perforation image from Serif Art Gallery. © Serif Inc, 1996

Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 14, pp2-4 (Oct 1981).

Copyright notice

Copyright © William H. Bennett.
Originally published in the American Philatelist, August 1979

The Rarest Andorra Stamp

by William H. Bennett

Is there a collector alive who does not dream of discovering a great rarity, of uncovering a unique item? What follows is the true story of the unearthing of the scarcest Andorran (and Europa theme) stamp. But it is a more complex story than most of us envision in our dreams of philatelic fame and fortune. It is, in fact, a report on the logic, research and patience necessary in serious stamp collecting.

0f80 Europa - normal stamp

On May 21st, 1975, while Dr. Irving Tesmer calmly sat working at his desk, he ordered three sets of the new French Andorran Europa issue from the Service Philatelique in Paris. As President of his local stamp club, Dr. Tesmer had enough interest in and knowledge about Andorran stamps to order new issues directly from the Government Offices that print them for this unique little country. (Spain also issues stamps for Andorra, the world's only remaining Co-Principality, under authority from the Bishop of Urgel, the other Prince.)

On June 10th he picked up his mail and noted with pleasure that a stamp order had arrived. While sorting through it, he quickly sensed that something was wrong. The lower value (Scott No.236) did not have the country's name or the value on it, and the design seemed incomplete. A closer inspection made it clear that he had discovered what we all dream of finding - a genuine error. The three stamps were totally devoid of black ink. But were they unique (or at least uncommon), or was this a recurring problem with this issue?

Europa error

Editor's Note: In the illustration above some of the gold colour has been lost in photocopying. It is understood to be complete in the original with only the black unprinted.

On June 23rd he wrote to the Director of the French PTT describing the error and asking if others had been sold before the mistake was discovered. M. Melet, the Inspector General, quickly responded that the Service had not known about the error.(l) He hypothesized that the missing colour sheet passed through their inspection system undetected, possibly stuck to another sheet.(2) Dr. Tesmer sat back and waited to see if other copies would be discovered, if the French Postal Service would take any action, or if he would gain fame and fortune as the discoverer of Andorra's rarest stamp.

After a year, this Europa issue was withdrawn and a new one was released. Dr. Tesmer believed it safe to begin publicizing the discovery. He contacted a well-known writer whose column he often read and enjoyed, told him of the discovery, and supplied the journalist with a photograph of the error.(3) What happened next tells as much about why bad products and weak political candidates often outsell and out campaign their competition and opponents as it does about the discovery of a new major error. The key is effective advertising and publicity.

The writer whom Dr Tesmer entrusted with his find made a few inquiries of major dealers, confirmed that nobody had heard of the error, (4) and then reported it in one paragraph near the end of a long two page article that appeared in the inside pages of the (then) Western Stamp Collector.(5) And so the rarest of all Andorran stamps, and very probably the rarest of all Europa and art-on-stamps thematics, was introduced to the world. Needless to say, the world did not notice.

Concurrently, however, the writer did submit the information to Stanley Gibbons Ltd., which showed strong interest in listing the stamp in its catalogue. However, the firm wanted to examine a copy in its London office before taking final action (6) and that, regretfully, posed a serious road block. Dr. Tesmer was not willing to trust such a valuable item to the International mails, and a trip to London was not in his immediately affordable future.

So what happened next? Dr. Tesmer tried to achieve victory through persistance. He personally described the error to two "name" dealers. They ventured their belief in its probable genuineness and scarcity, but offered no tangible assistance beyond that reaction. He then submitted a copy to The Philatelic Foundation for a certificate, but they lacked the expertise to issue an opinion. By now three years had passed since the original discovery, three years of increasing frustration. Dr. Tesmer next approached a dealer who specialised in Andorran philately. That gentleman showed far more interest than previous contacts, and carefully examined all the information and correspondence Dr. Tesmer had gathered. After a reasonable amount of study, the dealer accepted the authenticity of the error and tried to purchase one or more copies.

If you are lucky enough to find, or to be the first offered a major discovery, how do you determine its value? Because it has never changed hands before, the factors of supply and demand have not yet come into play; the find is not catalogued. As a result, both parties take risks at almost any price. In this specific case, both men soon developed enough trust in each other to settle on a substantial but mutually satisfactory price, and one copy changed hands. More importantly, together these two collectors were able to start the process of getting the stamp into the catalogues and letting international philately know about it.

Arrangements finally have been made to allow Gibbons to inspect a copy in London in 1980. Scott Catalogue has been contacted. The one copy of the stamp still commercially available (Dr. Tesmer and the dealer are each keeping one for their private collections) probably will soon be discreetly offered for sale.

There are lessons in this story for all of us. Many are best drawn by the reader, but I feel safe in venturing two observations. First, the APS and/or the SPA should give serious consideration to establishing and publicising the existence of an elite errors committee. Such a group would not rule on the genuine nature or value of new discoveries but, through its own cumulative knowledge and by issuing a standardised brochure, could advise the lucky few who have reason to make inquiries. Second, each of us can learn from Dr. Tesmer's experience that discovery alone is not enough. Patience, research, and hard work are necessary to obtain the recognition due the discoverer of an important find.

  1. Letter dated July 7th, 1975 on PTT letterhead, and signed.
  2. Under these conditions the sheet could have passed undetected, especially because black was the last colour applied. The harder to answer question is "What happened to the rest of the sheets?" The clerk filling orders might have destroyed them (in which case a record should have been made, but it might have been too small a matter to note). Or, he might have pocketed them (a risky but potentially profitable act). This unlikely, because three stamps were sent out, and as yet none has been reported outside the U.S.A. A third possibility may be that the clerk used the other sheets the fact that four years have passed since the issue was distributed make this improbable.
  3. John Elsey of Surrey, England.
  4. Handwritten letter to Dr. Tesmer dated July 4th, 1976,/li>
  5. Appeared in the Sept. 4th, 1976 issue.
  6. Date sequence of correspondence in 1976 - October 10, 11 and 30; November 8 and 18.

The above article first appeared in the "American Philatelist" issue of August 1979 and is the copyright of the author W. H. Bennett.


(Valira Torrent no15, p9)

Member Ernesto Fink reports that a complete sheet of ten stamps of this variety was sold by auction in Vienna (1980) for 20,000 Austrian schillings. It would seem a strong possibility that more copies of this variety exist as this would seem to be a low realisation. Missing colour varieties can occur at the beginning of a printing run, before all the ink cylinders are "on tap", and these faulty sheets are normally discarded as waste. They can also occur at the end of the printing run.

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