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ALondon-based private collector has spent some £495,000 on one of the UK’s rarest stamps. Despite the sums involved, however, the stamp – a Plate 77 Penny Red – is only the second most expensive British stamp ever to come to auction. Described as the “Holy Grail of philately”, the stamp was sourced from an imperfect plate. Most of the stamps in the batch were destroyed immediately after printing, but a single sheet of stamps survived and went into circulation. Just five survive and are currently thought to still be in existence.

Of the other five, two are in the British Library, one is in the Royal Collection, while the fifth was sold to a collector in Australia in 2012. Taking a notably patriotic line, Keith Heddle, managing director of investments for Stanley Gibbons, the London-based specialist in the sale of collectible stamps, confessed that he was delighted that this particular stamp was staying in Britain. The anonymous buyer sounded equally satisfied, saying: “Buying this stamp has given me a buzz I really didn’t expect.”

While this particular stamp has certainly caused a huge amount of interest, the hobby as a whole is seems to be in something of a decline. Lamenting the drop in the number of aficionados, John Baron, chair of the  Association of British Philatelic Societies, said: “We are not getting enough young people interested in the hobby. Younger people have very different lifestyles now. My life used to be all about football and stamp collecting. Now it’s far more about the Internet and Twitter.”

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