UN stamp archive selloff scandal
Can you imagine the US Government selling off whole collections from the Smithsonian? Or the UK sending the British Library to Christie’s? Far fetched, indeed: yet the UN, that great upholder of international law, did pretty much exactly that a few years ago in selling off its philatelic archive lock, stock, and barrel — and for cheap. Read all about it here:
Auditors from the U.N.’s investigative arm, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), are currently putting the last touches on an investigative report that has taken months to complete, and that aims to determine exactly what happened — and why — to the U.N.’s rare and much-admired collection of materials that belong to the United Nations Postal Administration. . .
One thing that investigators know for certain about the archive: In a discreet but historic auction carried out in a quiet suburb of Geneva, Switzerland, all of it — more than a metric ton of prized material, dating from as early as 1951 — was sold off to a single bidder on May 12, 2003. The collection included original artwork for U.N. stamps, unique so-called die proofs to test the faithfulness of design reproduction, printing proofs and other rarities, along with hundreds of thousands of other stamps, reflecting many of the most colorful aspects of U.N. history.
As the article notes, there were and are strict rules that one would have expected to bar such a selloff outright. One gets the impression that this was in essence a theft in broad daylight, though it is not yet clear how those who profited from the sale and those who orchestrated it might be connected.
The auction itself was carried out in entirely legal fashion.
Excepting, of course, the rather serious matter of title.
The price it fetched — $3,068,000 — was hailed on a variety of stamp collecting Web sites as a world record price for a single lot sale at a stamp auction. . .
But for the U.N., it was no coup, even though, according to officials familiar with UNPA finances, the UNPA netted “some $2.5 million” from the Swiss auction deal.
Not clear here if the $3,068,000 figure represents the hammer price or the net paid with buyer’s premium tacked on. In any event, the UN’s net seems low. I’m not familiar with the stamp world, but normally the big auction houses waive seller’s commissions for large, important consignments from governmental and nonprofit institutions, and will usually pick up the costs of photography and catalog production as well.
This whole affair is certainly a huge black eye for the UN. They must be just tearing their hair out at UNESCO . . . .