FINE ART buyers may recoil from bloodied dead game or memento mori skulls on still lifes, but the rest of the market knows no such delicacy. Death and disaster, after a suitable lapse of time, become marketing opportunities, as was demonstrated at the Chiswick rooms of Harmers (15% buyer’s premium) on October 22 when their wide reputation as philately auctioneers brought them the remarkable Günther Heyd Disaster Mail collection from Germany.
Mr Heyd (1900-1973) was a pioneer of untapped collecting areas and described the mail in this collection as “more gripping than any novel”. Many of the items bore the scars of their epic pasts and were burnt, water-stained or torn. Bestriding the disaster market is, of course, the Titanic.
Here provenance is essential and there was no doubting that the postal packing slip shown right was 100 per cent genuine if rather ghoulish – having been removed from the body of the ship’s mail clerk, O.S. Woody.
Marked with both Titanic and O.S. Woody cachets and with the Transatlantic Post Office/AP/10/12/7 date-stamp, it attracted bidders from across the globe both in the room and on five phone lines.
In light of the five-figure bids such ephemera can make at specialist Titanic sales such as Aldridges – the £500 estimate on this postal slip can only be interpreted as the most obvious of “here to sell” messages. And sell it did – at £10,000 to an overseas collector.
This bid eclipsed any others at the sale, with lesser disasters bringing lesser, but still impressive, prices. One such was an entire (a letter folded and addressed on the folded paper before the introduction of envelopes).
The earliest known such letter from a marine disaster, was one salvaged from the Lady Holland, grounded off Sadhana Bay, South Africa in 1830.
Bearing a handstamp From the wreck/of the/Lady Holland – the entire took £3500 against top hopes of £1500.
Also going above expectations was a rare stampless wrapper to Bremen marked particularly clearly with the words Saved from the Wreck of the Cleopatra, which brought £4000.