Collecting Stamps

Tete-beche Pairs from France


French for “head-to-tail” or literally translated as “head-to-head,” tete-beche refers to pairs of stamps joined together with one image upside-down in relation to the other. A tete-beche pair may be joined vertically or a horizontally. Many tete-beche issues are produced intentionally for collectors; however, high valued issues were the result of a printing error made during production. The error occurs when a die or cliche is positioned incorrectly for one or more stamps. It has been suggested, however, that printer Anatole A. Hulot intentionally inserted some of the cliches upside-down as a control for the detection of forged sheets.
It is suggested in the original run of 900,000 stamps printed with the second plate in a two plate process, one tete-beche cliche occurred at position 80 creating 6,000 1850 15¢ Tete-Beche pairs. Most of the errors were used during 1850-1853 as singles for the local mailing rate; in fact there is only one known copy of the pair known to exist today. Originally mailed on a cover from Paris to New Orleans in 1852, the cover was bought by noted collector Count Philipp la Renotiere von Ferray some 44 years later for the sum of 7,500 francs ($1,683 USD). The stamp was sold in a 1924 Ferray auction and disappeared from public eye until 1989, where it resurfaced at the PhlexFrance ’89 Exposition. In 2003, the original cover sold at a Spink and Behr auction for the sum of $301,000.

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Nagaraju Tadakaluri
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