Rare Audrey Hepburn stamps sold at Berlin auction

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Audrey Hepburn stamps
Image caption,
The stamps were originally printed in 2001

A rare sheet of 10 stamps showing film star Audrey Hepburn smoking has fetched 430,000 euros (£380,000) at a charity auction in Berlin.

The German Postal Service printed 14 million of the stamps in 2001 depicting the actress as Holly Golightly in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's.

They show Hepburn with a long, black cigarette holder hanging from her lips.

But her son refused to grant copyright, saying the image had been altered, and all but a few sheets were destroyed.

The son, Sean Ferrer, agreed to auction a sheet in his possession for charity.

Two-thirds of the proceeds from Saturday's auction will go towards the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund to help educate children in sub-Saharan Africa, while a third will go to Unicef.

"I feel wonderful about the fact that something that belonged to her today can bring focus on children in need all over the world," said Mr Ferrer, who is also chairman of the Hepburn charity.

"We are able to turn something around that started off on the wrong foot and make it into something positive that's going to help a lot of kids around the world."

'Supply and demand'

The stamps were printed as part of a series featuring classic film stars, but it was only after production that Mr Ferrer was contacted for copyright permission.

"In the original photo, she's got sunglasses hanging from her mouth, but they had flipped the negative and replaced the glasses with the cigarette holder," he told the Associated Press news agency ahead of the auction.

Image caption,
Auctioneer Eliisabeth Schlegel with the stamp sheet

He suggested either the original photo or an alternative, but the postal service hastily replaced the actress with a generic film roll and ordered the stamps to be destroyed.

Two sheets were spared, one for the Postal Service Archives and one for the German Post Museum, however two additional sheets of stamps disappeared.

During the last six years, five of the missing stamps were sold at auction for between 62,500 and 173,000 euros by stamp appraiser Andreas Schlegel.

Mr Schlegel then contacted Mr Ferrer to suggest asking the German government if they could sell one of the archived stamp sheets for charity.

However, Mr Ferrer already had a sheet the government had sent him for approval in 2001.

Mercer Bristow, from the American Philatelic Society, said a contract Mr Ferrer signed with the German finance ministry earlier this year, securing rights to the stamp sheet and ensuring the government would not sell either of its sheets until 2040, helped drive up the reserve price of the set.

"It goes back to supply and demand. It's the only sheet out there people can bid on and she's still such a popular actress," he said.

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