Many collectors would not give this simple overprint from Dominica a second glance. But specialists recognise it as one of the world’s rarest stamps.
It was produced in 1886 when there was a shortage of both the ½-penny and 1-pence definitives in use in the colony. To remedy this, it was agreed to surcharge the 6-pence value of the existing set with ‘Half Penny’ and the 1-shilling with ‘One Penny’. Apparently due to a printer’s mistake, a single sheet of sixty (or perhaps less than a sheet) of the 6-pence value got the ‘One Penny’ overprint.
The error was noticed before the stamps were released to post offices for sale, but some mystery surrounds the way they were then handled. It is known that Mr. W. Porter, the island’s Treasurer, sent a letter bearing ten of the wrongly overprinted stamps to Mr. A. C. Emerson, a stamp dealer in London. Porter later admitted that he had also kept a couple himself and Emerson also later recalled selling some of the errors. A few copies certainly found their way into important collections, such as those of Thomas Tapling, Lord Crawford, Theodore Champion, Maurice Burrus and Count von Ferrary. The bulk of the wrongly printed sheet or sheets disappeared, however, and have never been accounted for.
Some consider that the missing stamps were destroyed as printers’ waste after a few copies had been kept for record purposes. Others believe that only part of the sheet was overprinted on the wrong base stamp before the error was noticed, whereupon the work was stopped immediately and the errors passed to Porter for ‘safe keeping’. The full truth will probably never be known.