Rare Hepburn stamps at Berlin charity sale

Berlin: A dispute over an Audrey Hepburn stamp in Germany is going to help poor children in Africa.

A mint-condition sheet of 10 stamps portraying Hepburn, a coy smile on her face and a long, black cigarette holder dangling from her lips, is expected to fetch at least (EURO)400,000 (USD 565,000) at a charity auction Saturday in Berlin.

Auctioneer Andreas Schlegel said he`s received interest from four serious bidders. Two-thirds of money raised will go to the Audrey Hepburn Children`s Fund, and one-third to UNICEF Germany.

The sale brings a profitable outcome to a botched stamp series that should have been destroyed years ago — and evokes Hepburn`s starring role in the 1963 thriller "Charade," in which the characters chase a set of rare stamps.

The German postal service printed 14 million of Hepburn stamps in 2001 showing the Belgian-born actress in her most famous role as the ebullient Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany`s."

Only after the stamps were printed was Sean Ferrer, 50, Hepburn`s son and the chair of the Audrey Hepburn Children`s Fund, was contacted to grant copyright — but he refused, arguing that the image had been altered.

"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.

Ferrer suggested using either the original photo or an alternative, but the postal service ended up scrapping the stamp and ordering those produced destroyed.

Deutsche Post says it saved only two sheets of the stamps — one for its own archive and one for the German Post Museum. But in 2004, a single stamp with Hepburn smoking, postmarked Berlin, landed on Schlegel`s desk.

"I was obviously very surprised, because they never were supposed to be used as stamps at all," Schlegel said.

Between 2004 and 2009, four other Hepburn stamps turned up and were authenticated. They sold at auction for between (EURO)62,500 and (EURO)173,000.

Bureau Report

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