Stamp enthusiast Brian Grant Duff remembers the thrill of handling what was, until recently, thought to be the only two examples of Canada's rarest stamp, the two cent "large Queen on laid paper."
It's estimated by some to be worth as much as $1 million.
Grant Duff was in his early 20s, and working for Vancouver dealer Daniel Eaton. Eaton obtained one example of the rare stamp from Britain's stamp and collectibles giant Stanley Gibbons in 1986, and the second one from Winnipeg stamp dealer Kasimir Bileski in 1993. For nearly 90 years, the two copies were the only ones known to exist.
Grant Duff said he would carry one of Eaton's large Queen on laid in a case and display it at stamp shows around B.C. and in Ontario and Quebec, not fully realizing the risk of carrying something that could one day be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"It was just a great opportunity for a young man in stamps," said the 48-year-old, who now runs his own collectibles shop in Vancouver. "Frankly, there hasn't been another highlight in my career to that degree since that time."
So when Grant Duff heard recently that a third example of every Canadian stamp collector's wildest dream was discovered in a circuit book — a book that contains stamps and is passed between collectors and dealers — and bought earlier this year by an unnamed collector for roughly five dollars, he was gobsmacked.
Apparently, so was the Vincent Graves Green Philatelic Research Foundation, a postal history research organization based in Toronto that recently examined the third copy.
"A two cent large Queen was submitted to the Expert Committee in March 2013 showing laid lines in the paper," the centre said in a report released last month. "It was not an obvious fake. Accordingly considerable analysis has been undertaken to determine if it is genuine. If so it would be the third known genuine copy."
After months of analyzing 12 different aspects of the stamp, which was dated March 16, 1870 and had "creases and a tear," the centre declared it to be authentic.
"They started issuing the two-cent-large-Queen in 1868," Grant Duff explained. "If it was dated 1870, might it have been a fake? It was too good to be true, basically, but they've determined it was a genuine example."
According to Grant Duff, the 145-year-old stamp is so rare because it is an anomaly. The green-hued stamp, which features a profile portrait of Queen Victoria, was printed perhaps by mistake on "laid" paper — commonly used for stationery, and has alternating light and dark lines — at a time when printers were transitioning to "wove" paper.
Grant Duff estimates between a hundred to 400 of the stamps were printed on laid paper. The two that were acquired by Eaton were both authenticated by the Royal Philatelic Society in London in 1935.
Grant Duff helped Eaton sell one of his acquired examples in 1986 for approximately $90,000. They traded the second example, which was then sold to its current owner for about $200,000, he said.
The Unitrade Canadian Stamp Catalogue estimates that the large Queen on laid would now be worth at least $250,000. However, Canadian stamp collector and business man Ron Brigham, who is selling his stamp collection this fall and who owns one example of the rare stamp, announced earlier this year it is valued at $1 million.
"It's possible because it's so rare," Grant Duff said. "Even a third one being discovered probably doesn't hurt the market."
Grant Duff, who has been collecting stamps since he was seven years old because he enjoys the "handfuls of history," said he hopes whoever now owns the third example of the large Queen on laid will keep it in collectors' hands, rather than donate it to a museum or a philatelic society.
"If I'm really lucky, I'll get to handle the third one one day," he said.