One of just seven known surviving copies of New Zealand's rarest stamp has been sold to an overseas collector for a record price.

The 3d HMS Vanguard stamp has one of the most colourful stamp histories in the world.

Part of a set of four, it was produced for the New Zealand Post Office by Waterlow & Sons of London to commemorate the royal visit by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, as announced by Buckingham Palace on March 6, 1948, on the giant battleship HMS Vanguard.

A total run of 39 million stamps of 2d, 3d, 5d and 6d values were made before the Royal tour was cancelled in November 1948 after the king fell ill.


The news resulted in the an order by the New Zealand Post Office to destroy the stamps.

But, legend has it that seven stamps were caught in the door of the destruction furnace and salvaged by a worker.

All of the surviving stamps are creased and damaged, to varying degrees, and are held in private hands.

The stamp that was sold at Mowbray Collectables' stamp auction in Wellington on Saturday is believed to be the one of the finest condition.

Against an estimate of $25,000, auctioneer John Mowbray says he had to contend with fierce bidding by telephone from interested purchasers.

It was eventually sold to an overseas stamp collector for $67,850, easily outstripping the previous world record of $31,050 set by Mowbray's in 2009.

"This just shows what collecting stamps is all about. These little bits of paper can fetch extraordinary prices in some situations and this was one of them," Mowbray said.

Mowbray said the buyer was from Asia, but he refused to disclose further information. He also said the buyer did not wish to speak to media.

Another remarkable price was set at the auction, which amassed sales of about $700,000, for a reconstructed sheet of 240 different 1d Blacks from Great Britain.

Issued in 1840, the 1d Black was not only Britain's first postage stamp but also the world's first.

Each complete sheet of 240 stamps bore different letters starting from AA and ending with TL, as a security device to prevent forging.

A local collector had amassed over the years all 240 different 1d Black stamps and the reconstructed sheet was offered with an estimate of $45,000.

Immense interest from collectors world-wide saw the price of the stamps ramp up before going under the hammer for $77,050 to an overseas collector.