The "Solferino" (I)

by N. Zafirakopoulos

This is the first in a series of articles on the so-called Solferino by Nicholas Zafirakopoulos who identified fourteen of the existing Solferino stamps, published their photos and discovered that two of these Solferinos were in fact from adjacent positions of the sheet and were at one time joined. His article spurred specialists in the large heads to examine these photos, determine their plate positions and publish additional information on these rarest of all Greek stamps.

We usually write to share with other collectors our conclusions from the study of various items in our collection or from useful information compiled in the scrutiny of philatelic items found in archives, decrees, etc.

While leafing through the pages of D. Feldman’s exquisite catalogue (The Collection I) with the first part of the Zachariades collection, I could not avoid reading carefully a most interesting introduction to lots 10257 and 10258, namely the Solferinos, by my friend Michael Tseriotis. Thus, I found myself in the strange position of having to consider mentioning the following simple remarks for a stamp:

Its a Pair

Figure 1: The Pair (Nos. 2b at left and 2a at right).

As seen from the digital arrangement of the two photocopies (Fig. 1), it is rather certain that the two stamps comprised a pair which was separated after its detachment from the cover. An effort was made to achieve the best possible magnification so as to facilitate the study by large Hermes head collectors of any varieties of the positions on the sheet. The identification of their positions is aided by the fact that the left stamp seems to come from the sheet’s first left column and will definitely answer the question of whether this is a pair or not.

From the study of Tseriotis, who is the leading expert on this subject, it arises that the two stamps, numbered 2a and 2b, were among the first to appear. In addition, both Alfieris and Economides had connections with Egypt (the latter had participated in the Cairo 1946 Stamp Exhibition) a fact supporting the view that we have to look there for the initial appearance of the pair. Its two stamps are the only ones dated 14 July, and this is an indication that the sheet was initially cut on July 12 from bottom right, and was finished at the top left on July 14. A very spontaneous effort to trace some of the characteristics mentioned by Asimakopulos in his book1 for the two left columns of the 40 l. (pos. 61, 71, 72, 81, 91, 102, 111 and 131) failed. If we add to this possible indication that the two corner positions 1 and 141 are more or less ruled out, and that the top margin line is stronger than the bottom, it seems that positions 11, 12, 21, 22, 31 and 32 are more likely. In other words, the sheet was cut for sale from bottom right to top left, which is a rather probable move for a right-handed employee.

1Asimakopulos, N. "The Plate Flaws of the Large Hermes heads of Greece, 1861-1886", Hellenic Philatelic Society of America, No. 3, 1995.

1871 or 1872

  1. Argyropoulos in Kohl’s Handbook (p.183) classifies the Solferino, described as rotlila (red lilac?) from the color of the control numbers, in the 1870-72 issue. Place and time of circulation, Piraeus, July 1872.
  2. The "Etude" of the Hellenic Philotelic Society classifies it in the same issue with the earliest known date 12-7-1872 (Argyropoulos collection, see table item no. 11).
  3. On items no. 4, 10, 11, 12, and 13 of the table, the year is clearly 1872.
  4. On items 1 and 6 it is unclear whether the year is 71 or 72
  5. The year on no. 6 is seen from the postmark Constantinople (Turkey) 71.
  6. Tseriotis assured me that that the year on the letter (no. 1) is 1871 and not 1872 (his article on this subject appears in Philotelia No. 613.
  7. From Coundouros’2 book and its supplement, the following is noted:

    First setting 48a   rose-flesh 23-5-1871
    48c   carmine-violet (Solferino) 12-7-1872
    48b   yellow-flesh 20-10-1871
    Second setting 54a   olive 21-2-1872
      but we expect an article by J.K. mentioning ?-12-1871
    Third setting 54d,e)   According to J.K. the matter needs to be
    54c,d)   looked into, but the dates we know are ?-4-1872
    Fourth setting 54b 1873

  8. The conclusions we may draw are, in my opinion, as follows:

    a) It seems that the wide-spread theory about the Solferino being the first sheet from the printing of the rose-flesh stamps, prior to the dilution and/or discoloration of the ink is correct. While, during the printing process, the sheets were stacked one on top the other, they were sent for use from top to bottom. And so we have the first use on 23-5-71, and the use of the firstly printed sheet (Solferino) between the 12th and 14th July 1871. As we can see above, it is unrealistic to assume that the sheet was left over and used a year later.

    b) The entry of “72” in the double-circle Piraeus postmark should be due to an error by the post office clerk. However improbable such an error may seem, this is the most likely explanation in the case of the Solferino. Definite proof will come through letters to and from Piraeus franked with other values, but with the same wrong year, and this presents an opportunity for large Hermes heads collectors to examine their collections.

Assessment - Price Development

In a free market the price is determined by supply and demand only when there is a substantial volume of the two. In the case of the Solferino we have an insignificant supply, and an equally insignificant number of prospective buyers who have the means to purchase it at a price level of half, or one million Swiss Francs. The price is, therefore, determined by the importance of the item, its rarity, and the prospective buyer’s means in a difficult game of balance between auctioneer and buyer. However unrealistic the assessment and pricing of such rare items may seem in a market which is unable to establish the prices, since there are so few items and buyers, nevertheless, we are making an effort, in this respect, based on the significance, the quality, and the relatively recent prices fetched in Greece. As we know, prices realized in foreign auctions do not usually qualify for the drawing of conclusions, since they include among the lots sold some for which the reserve set by the vendor was not attained.

In 1929 Argyropoulos valued the Solferino in Kohl’s Handbook at DEM 500, valuing at the same time the rose-flesh at DEM 100 and the yellow-flesh at DEM 60.

In 1929 Rothschild bought no. 4 from Luder for SFR 1,400.

In 1956 Robson Lowe offered no. 11 together with two entire letters franked with 40 l. stamps at 70 U.K. pounds but only realized 63 U.K. pounds.

In 1962 no. 2a was sold by Stanley Gibbons for 500 pounds.

In 1963 no. 3 was valued by Corinphila at SFR 2,500.

Figure 2: The Cover bearing Solferino No. 1.

Then a period of inactivity followed, until in the early seventies Zachariadis bought the only known cover at a price rumored to be trivial (Fig. 2).

Finally, in the seventies and the early eighties there was a boom in the collection of large Hermes heads, and several buyers of substantial means competed with Zachariadis who, nevertheless, appeared inexhaustible in means and philatelic interest.

In 1983 three big collections came in the market (Binos’ on 10-4-83 R.A.G. Lee’s on 6-10-83 and Holcombe’s on 7-11-83) and were absorbed at high prices.

In 1982 Zachariadis bought from Argyl Etkin no. 11 and from D. Feldman no. 2b for SFR 100,000. This is the first time that the price of a Solferino increased dramatically. He continued in 1984 buying no. 6 from D. Feldman at the rather excessive price of SFR 230,000 and no. 7 in 1985 for SFR 155,000.

No. Value
(x 800-1200 €)
Remarks History Probable
1 650 2 13 Jul. ?... without faults, date 1871 on inside In the decade of the 1970s, it was purchased from Zachariades for a few liras. XII
2a 200 14 Jul. 72 slight thin Pemberton Alfieris
Robson Lowe
Robson Lowe
5/87GK SFr 90,000
Feb. 89
Nov. 95
22,300,000 Dr
2b A. Economides
exhibited in
Cairo 1948
Binos Etkin Feldman 1983 Zachariades I
3 130 2 Corinfila 1963
Lot 1722
est. SFr 2500
4 120 12 Jul. 72 without faults Garas Luder 1929
SFr 1,400
Rothschild II N.A.
5 90 2 Sassenhausen Feldman 11/90
SFr 80,000
M.M. Karamitsos 2000
Euro 114,000
6 75 12 Jul. 7... Constantinople
9 Jul. 71
Jones RAG Lee Feldman 3/84
SFr 230,000
Zachariades VIII
7 60 2 Jones RAG Lee Feldman 11/85
SFr 156,000
Zachariades VII
8 50 2 Vershoyle Robson Lowe 1986
SFr 67,500
9 45 2 Janky Vasdekis Corinfila 3/87
SFr 57,500
M.M. Karamitsos 2000 IX H.T.
10 35 12 Jul. Adams Robson Lowe 1956
$63     $100
Stanley Gibbons
11 25 12 Jul. 72 Argyropoulos Binos Etkin Zachariades Feldman 2002
SFr 60,000
12 15 12 Jul. 72 Spink Bloch Alevizos 1988 Behr V
13 10 12 Jul. Judd Holcombe Trefonas Vasdekis M.M. V. Spanos 6/97
D.M. Vlastos 2000
est. 7,500,000 Dr
X A.K.












Figure 3. Remaining Solferinos (Nos. 3 to 13)

Zachariadis died in October 1986 at the age of 70, at a time when everyone was expecting that the huge wealth of rarities he had so passionately amassed would begin to take the form of a study for publication. The loss was heavy if we consider what this man, with well above average mental abilities, would have offered through studying all this material for 10 to 15 years. The repercussions from his death were also financial. No. 9 Solferino from Vasdekis’ collection, the fourth ace as he was nicknamed, when urged to sell his collection of large Hermes heads in 1983, fetched only SFR 57,000 in March 1987, 10,000 less than no. 8 in 1986. The price was low if we take into account that Zachariadis had conceded no. 8 to K. M. by abstaining from bidding. A much prettier piece (no.2a) realized SFR 90,000 in May 1987. Five years later, in the public sale of the Rothschild collection, perhaps the most beautiful Solferino, estimated at 50,000 - 70,000 U.K. pounds, was offered at a starting price of 40,000 to receive no bid. This stamp ended up in the collection of N.A. After three years we have the first sale of Solferino in Greece (no. 2a - Karamitsos no. 57 auction) at drs 22,000,000 which, ironically enough, is the only one in the hands of a foreign collector. All the others, with the exception of no.3 whose owner is unknown, belong to Greek collectors. In 1997 D.M. bought from V. Spanos no.13 for USD 30,000 which, incidentally, remained unsold in Vlastos auction in 2000 priced at drs. 7,500,000 and eventually went to the collection of A.K. Earlier in the same year Karamitsos had sold through his no. 101 auction, no. 5 for Euro 114,000 and no. 9 for Euro 57.000. In February 2002 D. Feldman offered no. 1, a unique cover, estimated at SFR 600,000 and no. 11 at 60,000.

The order in the table which follows is based on the importance, rarity and quality. The valuation is based mainly on prices realized in Greek auctions.

Notes :

  1. The present owners are mentioned by their initials.

  2. Each valuation unit corresponds today's Euro 800-1,200.

  3. Solferino No. 3 is not included in the Tseriotis catalogue and both the price at which it was sold and its owner are unknown. Its information and photo were supplied by G. Kotsis.

David Feldman is undoubtedly the most efficient auctioneer to attract non-Greek clients at this price level. His exquisite catalogue, an all-time gift to all Greek large Hermes heads collectors, is only the visible part of his efforts. If he can manage to mobilize a significant number of foreign collectors, the market will follow him. If not, the large Hermes heads global market will sooner or later move to Greece with all the positive and negative consequences such a move may entail.

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