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Hepburn stamp that escaped vaults sells for 135,000 euros

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Dusseldorf (dpa) - A postage stamp that was supposed to be locked for ever in treasury vaults was sold Friday at a Cologne auction for 135,000 euros (161,000 dollars), the highest price ever paid for a postwar German stamp.

The tiny 2001 stamp shows the late Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn. Only three of the stamps are in collectors' hands.

Some philatelists say that makes the Hepburn stamp even more coveted than two of the rarest stamps in the world, the 1847 "Post Office" Penny Orange and Twopence Blue from Mauritius. More than a dozen of the latter exist.

The Hepburn stamp was bought by the 41-year-old wife of a Dusseldorf area financial investor and stamp-lover.

"He would actually have been willing to pay a bit more," she admitted after a rival telephone bidder succumbed at 130,000 euros.

The stamp was discovered in a bag of torn-off stamps from corporate mail and it has never been discovered how it escaped from Finance Ministry or postal service custody after the issue was junked well before it was due to go on sale.

Germany's postal service had planned the stamp as a fund-raising memorial to Hepburn (1929-1993) but her son refused permission for the issue, apparently because the stamp showed his mother smoking. Hepburn died of lung cancer.

The stamps were pulped, and the only copies that were supposed to exist were samples for record-keeping in the vaults of the ministry and postal service.

Copyright 2005 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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