A collection of rare stamps described as “the private passion of a self-made man” is to be auctioned in a series of sales in September. Sotheby’s has announced the sale in London of the late Lord Steinberg of Belfast’s stamp collection which it expects to make £4 million.Leonard Steinberg, who died in 2009 aged 73, became a public figure and even survived an assassination attempt by the IRA.He was the son of Jewish Latvian immigrants to Northern Ireland and began his career as a bookmaker in Belfast.During the 1970s, he refused to pay “protection money” to loyalist and republican paramilitaries and survived an attempt on his life by the IRA. He was hit by five bullets.
He subsequently moved to England and became one of Britain’s most successful businessmen, establishing the Stanley Leisure Group – a chain of 640 betting shops and 45 casinos which employed 7,000 people. The business was sold in 2005.He was a noted philanthropist whose beneficiaries included Jewish charities, educational, cultural, sporting and welfare causes in Britain, Northern Ireland and Israel. He contributed to the Conservative Party and was created a life peer in the House of Lords in 2004. Apart from business and political interests, his twin passions were cricket and stamp collecting.
Sotheby’s said Steinberg was “one of Britain’s greatest modern-day philatelists” who specialised in collecting stamps from Britain and the British empire. He had “assembled 33 stamp albums, with each item on a separate page meticulously written-up by a skilled calligraphist”.The fine art auctioneers said the defining characteristic of the collection was that it contained only mint blocks of four or larger multiples.The significance of blocks is of paramount importance to collectors, since many stamps which are comparatively common are transformed into major rarities when in blocks of four or larger.The collection includes stamps from 74 countries and highlights include examples of “the greatest rarity” from Australia, the Falkland Islands and the British Solomon Islands.A mint block of nine examples of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black, issued by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on May 1st, 1840, for use from May 6th of that year, has a pre-sale estimate of £150,00-£200,000 (€229,000).
Sotheby’s said the Steinberg family had decided that proceeds of the sale would be used to support “causes and charities with which Lord Steinberg had been associated in his lifetime, including the fund he started with the aim of helping to rebuild Old Trafford, home of his beloved Lancashire County Cricket Club”.The sale will be second major disposal of a stamp collection with a Northern connection by Sotheby’s in recent years. In 2009, the collection belonging to Lady Mairi Bury, a Co Down aristocrat recognised as the world’s greatest female philatelist, sold for just over £3 million.