Rarest Japanese stamps

that could be kept in your old shoebox

Western fascination with Japan has existed since at least the mid-19th century, when the country (after 300 years of isolation) became open to the world. This significant event happened during the Meiji period. Around the same time, the country established its first national post office, which began printing its own stamps in 1871. Since then, Japanese philately has been very popular, both within local and foreign stamp collectors. Japan released many attractive issues, most of which relate to the major political shifts taking place in the country. There is a great variety of rare and very old Japanese stamps available on the market. However, it is really difficult to come by unused Japan postage stamps due to their popularity among local Japanese philately enthusiasts. So, we invite you to take a look at this list of ten rarest Japanese stamps that can adorn even the most valuable collections.

MOST VALUABLE JAPANESE STAMPS

  • Japanese Tama 6 yo stamp

    Japanese Tama 6 yo stamp

    $124,635

    Japanese Tama 6 yo stamp was recently discovered by a Scandinavian philatelist who didn`t even realize that he became the owner of this unique philatelic item. After buying a large All World collection from a European auction house hoping to find some stamps suitable for his collection. He didn`t manage to examine all the items, and Japanese Tama 6 yo stamp goes into a pile of stamps he later intended to look through. You can imagine his surprise when he discovered this stamp to be genuine and very expensive.

    Before this find only 6 other copies were known. This particular copy is considered by some Japanese experts to be the best of the few existing copies, which are all owned by great Japanese collectors. This stamp that has catalogue value of $336,900 was sold for $124,635 at the Postiljonen Jubilee Auction #200 on the 28th of April 2012 in Malmö, Sweden. 

     

  • Cherry blossom 1 sen stamp, 1875

    Cherry blossom 1 sen stamp, 1875

    $22,248

    1875 cherry blossom 1 sen brown is considered among the classic rarities of Japanese postal history. There were two varieties of this hand engraved stamp issued. The rarer of the two features the eighth syllabic character (chi) in the centre.  An 1875 cherry blossom 1 sen brown that is definitely one of the most important Japanese philatelic rarities appeared in a sale of Japanese philatelics at Dynasty Auctions. The lot was a real star in the sale of the Michael Ruggiero collection in Hong Kong on April 13. This particularly fine example displaying a well-centred print and a fresh appearance succeeded to fetch $22,248.

  • Dragon 1 sen blue stamp, 1872

    Dragon 1 sen blue stamp, 1872

    $14,832

    1872 Dragon 1 sen blue is one of the first stamp issues of Japan. It is a part of a famous "Dragon senstamps" that was introduced by a postal service after so called "Dragon monstamps”. The stamp has an exquisite design that shows an eastern dragon – a symbol of heavenly gods and emperors, power and wisdom, love and life.  A remarkably choice example of this rare mint issue, wonderfully fresh with sound perforations  was estimated at $2,579-$3,869 and brought $14,832 at Dynasty Auctions that took place on April 13, 2014. It should be mentioned that it exceeded its 2014 Scott value of $10,000.

  • Ryuku Islands airmail error stamp, 1960

    Ryuku Islands airmail error stamp, 1960

    $11,210

    During the American occupation of the Ryukyu Islands, postal authorities in the region printed several notable stamps, post cards and other stationary. These remain some of the rarest philatelic items that often fetch high prices at auction. The US occupied the Ryuku Islands after the Second World War. The islands (of which Okinawa is the largest and best known) were annexed by Japan in the mid-1800s. Other islands were returned to the Japanese in 1972. The notable Ryukyu Islands collectors’ stamps include 1960 Ryuku Islands airmail 9c on 4y brown error block of four, which celebrated the ultimate end of the war. The top two stamps are missing the 9c surcharge.  This unique block of four was sold for $11,210 at Daniel F Kelleher Auctions in Danbury, Connecticut on July 14, 2016.

  • Cherry Blossom 6 sen violet brown stamp, 1874

    Cherry Blossom 6 sen violet brown stamp, 1874

    $9,641

    Japan 1874 Cherry Blossom 6 sen violet brown is one of the brightest Japanese philatelic rarities. This stamp was printed on Western paper instead of Japanese paper. To guarantee the number of stamps issued as well as the face value, a tiny character from the katakana syllabary was included within the printed area. In 1875 the katakana characters were eliminated to simplify the engraving process. One of Japan 1874 Cherry Blossom 6 sen violet brown stamp, syllabic 3 (Kata-Kana alphabet character “ha”), unused without gum, estimated at $5,159-$6,449, drew a top bid of $9,641 at sale conducted by Dynasty Auctions in April, 2013.  The lot was described by an auction house as an “exceedingly rare syllabic type, with only a handful of unused examples recorded”.

  • Cherry Blossom 20 sen red violet stamp, 1874

    Cherry Blossom 20 sen red violet stamp, 1874

    $8,158

    Japan 1874 Cherry Blossom 20 sen red violet is one of the greatest philatelic rarities that has a rare syllabic 2 ("ro"). The design of this stamp is very beautiful that is why this item is quiet popular among stamp collectors. The examples in a fine condition are very rare and very valuable. One of such stamps was sold for $8,158 on April 13, 2014. This bright lot was part of the award-winning Michael Ruggiero Collection of Japan offered by Dynasty Auctions. The stamp is well centered and features amazingly fresh colours. Although the estimate value of this item is $5,159-$6,449, the stamp fetched much more proving the fact that it is one of the most desirable items of Japanese philately.

  • 30 sen Gray Syllabic 1 stamp, 1874

    30 sen Gray Syllabic 1 stamp, 1874

    $3,500

    1874 30 sen Gray syllabic 1 is one of the greatest Japanese philatelic items that rarely appear on the market. Many 1874 30s Gray syllabic 1 stamps have a lot of faults but those in a fine condition are considered to be real philatelic gems. Such an example possessing numerous desirable features that are seldom found together on these early Cherry Blossom issues was sold by Spink on October 1, 2005. The lot featured full perforations all around which is most uncharacteristic (these were usually scissor or roughly separated), extraordinarily bright and fresh, marvelously well-centered. A remarkable quality example of this rare Japanese stamp fetched $3,500 at this sale.

  • Bird Series 12 sen rose stamp, 1875

    Bird Series 12 sen rose stamp, 1875

    $2,600

    1875 Bird Series 12 sen rose from the “Bird Series” is one of the first stamps issued by Japan for international correspondence. These stamps contained the image of birds such as a crane, a falcon and a magpie in a double circle containing the face value in Japanese and Roman type. These bright stamps were printed on a foreign wove paper with variable colors. Some of these items are extremely rare today and are perfect addition to some of the greatest topical stamp collections. 1875 12s rose is considered to be the rarest of three issues. One of the specimens of these stamps (Syllabic 3) with an original gum and in a very fine condition was sold for $2,600 by Cherrystone in July, 2013. 

  • Empress Jingo 10 yen stamp, 1914

    Empress Jingo 10 yen stamp, 1914

    $1,875

    1914 Empress Jingo 10 yen is a rare Japanese stamp that shows a portrait of Empress Jingo. This is the first woman whose portrait was placed on the postage stamp of Japan. She was a Japanese empress who ruled beginning in the year 201. Jingo was considered to have been the 15th Japanese imperial ruler, according to the traditional order of succession. Most of 1914 Empress Jingo stamps are not very expensive, but the items with “China” overprints can be really valuable. Japanese post offices began to function in China in 1900. And stamps depicting Empress Jingo were issued at the time especially for use on this territory. The word “China” on these stamps were printed with Japanese hieroglyphs. Such a postage stamp (purple on "granite" paper with “China” overprint) was sold for $1,875 on eBay on March 4, 2012.

  • Nomination of Crown Prince Hirohito stamp, 1916

    Nomination of Crown Prince Hirohito stamp, 1916

    $1,127

    Japan’s then-heir apparent, Crown Prince Hirohito, was honored with a three-value set of stamps in 1916. Hirohito was Japan's longest-reigning emperor, holding the throne from 1926 to 1989. He was a controversial figure who announced Japan's surrender to the Allied Forces in 1945. The blue 10-sen stamp was printed in a quantity of 86,000. Never-hinged examples can be found, though overwhelmingly it is the unused hinged stamps that are offered. The value of the unused stamp is bolstered by the limited number of examples now available. The stamp is valued in the 2015 Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue at $825 unused and $275 used.  One of the examples of 1916 Crown Prince Hirohito stamps was sold for $1,127 on eBay in February, 2012.