A rare postage stamp issued when Vancouver Island was a British North America Crown colony could fetch up to $15,000 at auction.

The 1860 stamp coloured "dull rose" is the first issued on the colony, explained stamp expert Michael Tarantino who manages a collectibles store in Victoria.

'Even for someone like myself right in the field, right in the business watching every day, they don't come up that often' - Stamp expert Michael Tarantino

"Number one of anything is always pretty fun to collect and usually a little more expensive than all the other issues. This number one in particular is the same as number two, but the difference is that it was issued without "perfs." Perfs are those little edges on the stamp that you're used to seeing," he said.

"I believe they were just testing things out to see what they might need for this brand new colony."

Tarantino said the island colony — which was eventually united with the mainland to form the new amalgamated colony of British Columbia in 1866 — issued around 20 stamps.

The first few stamps were not issued in any significant number, he said, although the last 10 to 15 were used fairly regularly.

"The later stamps in the set are usually not too expensive. You can pick them up for a hundred dollars each, within that range — sometimes more, sometimes less depending on their condition," he explained.

But this first issue stamp is exceedingly rare.

"I've authenticated about two or three of these types of stamps for Vancouver Island over the last couple of decades but I've never actually had one personally for sale or owned one. They are that rare that even for someone like myself right in the field, right in the business watching every day, they don't come up that often."

Prices have dropped

While Daniel F. Kelleher Auctions in the U.S. — which is auctioning the stamp — estimates the winning bid will be between $10,000 and $15,000, Tarantino says collectors would have paid up to $25,000 for the stamp in the past.

He says the diminished price is the result of stamp collecting declining as a hobby.

"It was, at one time, the strongest hobby in the entire world," he said.

"[But] we don't use stamps every day. You're not used to seeing stamps."

But the slow market has one positive effect — precious stamps rarely available to the average collector are now within reach.

"If you've been collecting stamps your whole life and that's the one you've always wanted, $10,000 to $15,000 isn't a ton of money for a hobby."

Listen to stamp expert Michael Tarantino on CBC's On the Island: