Boyhood hobby for stamp collecting ends in £11m sale

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The most important collection of stamps to be sold for 50 years is expected to make more than £11m at auction after the death of its owner, a motor-racing driver raised in a Kent castle.

The most important collection of stamps to be sold for 50 years is expected to make more than £11m at auction after the death of its owner, a motor-racing driver raised in a Kent castle.

The collection was the private passion of Sir Gawaine Baillie, who died last year. It consists of more than 100,000 stamps, some of which are unique and all of which are unused and in perfect condition.

The range is such that the haul will be sold in 10 sales around the world over the next two years, starting in September.

Highlights include one of the most famous items in British philately, a unique pane - or sheet - of 20 two-shilling browns issued in 1880 that are estimated up to £250,000.

Other highlights include a variety of issues from the year of the Queen's Coronation, which are probably the best to come on to the market in 20 years, and some of the finest stamps from places as diverse as Newfoundland, New Zealand and Zululand.

Richard Ashton, the philatelic specialist at Sotheby's, said: "The scope and enormity of the collection is in itself a testimony to the tenacity and dedication of this great collector. This is without question the most significant collection of its type currently in private hands."

The collection began as a boyhood enthusiasm of Sir Gawaine, who was brought up in a privileged world at Leeds Castle, Kent, which his mother, Lady Olive Baillie, had bought with her sister.

But his childhood was disrupted by the Second World War and by the death of his father and he was sent to live with his American cousins, the Whitney family, who were themselves art collectors. Part of their collection, including a $104m (£58m) Picasso, was sold in New York earlier this year.

After studying at Cambridge, he started an engineering business and embarked on a successful career as an amateur motor-racing driver, competing against figures such as Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart and Stirling Moss, at whose wedding he met his own wife, Margot Beaubien.

He competed in championships including Le Mans 24 Hours, Goodwood, Aintree and Silverstone. When he eventually retired from racing, he concentrated on the engineering business and returned to his childhood hobby.

Having set out to form a comprehensive collection of stamps from Great Britain and the British Empire, he dedicated four hours every day to making acquisitions from the earliest issues of Queen Victoria through to the present day.

The results place him in the ranks of the greatest stamp collectors, including King George V and Thomas Tapling, whose collection formed the basis of the holdings of the British Library.

Robert Ashton said no one had quite realised the extent of the collection, which was the result of almost three decades' dedication. Sir Gawaine, who was 69 when he died, had "an exceptional eye for quality and colour," Mr Ashton added.

Comments