Sotheby’s have issued a robust defence of the British Postal Museum & Archive in the wake of strong criticism of the decision to sell off a tranche of its stamp collection valued at up to £5m.
It was on the letters page of ATG No
2090 that postal historian and collector Gavin Littaur first raised
concerns about the proposed sale of 20th century stamps on July 11
at Sotheby's in London followed by another sale in February next
year. He argued that the consignments and the manner in which it
had been lotted was neither "collector-friendly" nor in the public
interest as only Stanley Gibbons would be able to afford to buy it
"and the material will go straight to its investment
"Our national heritage cannot be
allowed to be the subject to a fire-sale," he said, questioning why
it was necessary to sell an archive valued at £5m in order to raise
£2m for the museum's building development fund.
And he called on a public commitment
from the BPMA "that significant reserves will ensure the material
will not be given away at knock-down prices" and that "unsold
material will not… be then offered at increasingly discounted
BPMA director Adrian Steel has already
replied (in Letters, ATG No 2092) that the material had been
divided into "lots of varied sizes, providing many different price
point opportunities for collectors to bid and buy at" and argued
that what was on offer was "only duplicate material", a point hotly
disputed by Littaur.
Now Richard Ashton, Sotheby's
worldwide philatelic consultant, has joined the fray, saying: "The
lots are estimated between £2000 and £500,000. Within specific
estimate ranges there are 17 lots within £2000 and £3000, and 66
lots between £3000 and £10,000. At the top end there are 15 lots
estimated between £100,000 and £500,000."
ATG's own inspection of the catalogue
reveals that it shows 107 of the 191 lots on offer carrying a
maximum estimate of £10,000, with the remainder above or well above
that price. The top-estimated lot is guided at
"The BPMA has followed a thorough and
well-considered process on its way to making the difficult decision
to sell surplus, duplicate material," said Mr Ashton.
"The Museums Association Ethics
Committee judged that the proposed sale meets the requirements of
the Code of Ethics and commends the BPMA on following best practice
for material that is not, in fact, accessioned into a museum
collection. Throughout the process, the BPMA has given utmost
priority to the benefits the sales will bring both to the public
and to its collections."