Skip to content


Inverted Swan Stamp

An Error that has become a Rarity

Very rare, 4 pence, first-issue Western Australian stamp known as the ‘inverted swan’, from the Duke of Leinster Collection.

By Linda Treacy


In the National Museum of Ireland's philatelic register the entry for the stamp reads HP:1909.16794: Western Australia, 1854. Value X (used or cancelled) 4d. Blue error with bevelled corners, lithographed watermark. Swan. Imperforate. Inverted centre.

The Inverted Swan, a 4-pence blue postage stamp issued in 1854 by Western Australia, was printed with the frame upside-down in relation to the swan at its centre.

The inverted swan was one of the world's first invert errors. It was originally thought that the swan was inverted until the original frame was found and the truth was uncovered.

How the stamp became part of the Duke of Leinster Collection

The ‘inverted swan’ stamp is part of the Duke of Leinster Collection. It was bequeathed to the museum in 1893 by the Fifth Duke of Leinster after his untimely death in that year.

The Duke of Leinster acquired the stamp indirectly from a Mr. Morris, a school master. The Duke found out about this stamp from a local schoolboy (Mr. Vance) who frequently visited a local shop owned by a Mr. Gerrard. Mr. Vance had heard that Mr. Morris was willing to part with the ‘inverted swan’ stamp to anyone willing to pay £3. One day when Mr.Vance was in Mr. Gerrard’s shop, he was introduced to the Duke of Leinster, Gerald FitzGerald, who was known to be an avid collector of stamps. Mr. Vance mentioned the ‘inverted swan’ to the Duke, as well as the selling price. The Duke took out his cheque book and wrote a cheque for that amount on the spot. Mr. Vance was little more than a schoolboy, and had some trouble getting the cheque cashed, but eventually he succeeded. He then approached Mr. Morris, firstly buying some stamps of lesser rarity before raising the subject of the ‘inverted swan’.  Finally he asked Mr. Morris if he was willing to sell the stamp. Mr. Morris agreed to do so for £3, but Mr. Vance argued him down to £2, keeping the extra £1 for himself. When Mr. Vance returned with the stamp to the Duke of Leinster, he was so delighted that he presented him with £3 or £4 worth of stamps. It had been a very profitable day for the young school boy.

The stamp was displayed at the first philatelic exhibition held by the Royal Philatelic Society London in 1890.

The Duke never mounted the ‘inverted swan’ stamp; he was more interested in completing his regular issues than in acquiring error stamps.

How was the ‘inverted swan’ acquired by the National Museum of Ireland?

Before his death the Duke had actually arranged to have the error stamp exchanged for other regular stamps.  However the Duke’s untimely death prevented the stamps from being exchanged, which in turn meant that the stamp was bequeathed to the National Museum of Ireland along with many other stamps.  These form the core part of the Museum’s Philatelic Collection.

Learn More

The ‘inverted swan’ stamp from the Philatelic Collection is part of the museum’s reserve collection and is not currently on display. Other items from the Duke of Leinster Collection can be seen in the galleries of The National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History.


Lane Joynt, W. R., (F.R.P.S.L), (1909) ‘The History of the Inverted Swan in the Leinster Collection in Dublin’. The London Philatelist: The Monthly Journal of the Royal Philatelic Society London, Vol. XVIII, No.205, 17-18.

Holmes, H. R., ‘The Irish National Stamp Collection’, (1945). The Philatelic Journal of Great Britain, Vol. LV. Nos. 658-660, 73-78.

The British Library Online Gallery, (2009). ‘Western Australia: 1854-55 4d, blue, error frame inverted, used.’ Available at: [Accessed 17 June 2016].


Inverted Swan Stamp is located at:
In Storage

Previous artefact:

Impressions on Ancient Shore

Next artefact:

Irish Republican POW Bone Carvings

Sign up to our newsletter

Keep up to date

Receive updates on the latest exhibitions