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 portfolios".
"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 prices".
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 £400,000-500,000.
"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."