This article is courtesy of Jim Cross and Columbia/Panama Philatelic Society. http://www.copaphil.org/
This article is blogged with written permission obtained from Jim Cross, the author of the article. Minor portions are edited for this blog.
Panama had a relatively modest stamp issuing program until 1964. In the following four years the government contracted with a firm which agreed to provide stamps without cost in return for the rights to sell them to stamp dealers outside of Panama. The contractor was given the authority to design the stamps and most of the numerous stamps issued from 1964-1968 had sports, space or fine art themes which would sell well to thematic collectors.
When the contract was terminated Panama resumed it's relatively modest program of stamps issues. Most commemoratives were for events of importance to Panama. One exception was a 10 centesimos airmail stamp issued on 17th-Dec-1971 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi (Sc C384).
The decree specified that 200,000 of the stamps would be printed. The choice of the denomination was interesting. At the time 10 centesimos paid the basic rate for a domestic airmail letter. The rate for an airmail letter to Central America and the United States was 13 centesimos, so if the Gandhi stamp was used on a letter to these destinations a 3 centesimos stamp had to be added. Relatively few letters were sent by domestic airmail in Panama and only a limited number of these domestic airmail covers have been saved. The majority of the available covers from this era are from mail to correspondence schools in Los Angeles and in Guatemala which had many Panamanian students and sold the envelopes from their correspondence to stamp dealers.
There were few stamp collectors in Panama during the time when the stamp was issued. While I was a specialized dealer in Latin American stamps I found that there were few requests for modern new issues from any Latin American country, I would estimate that no more than 5000 of the Gandhi stamps were sold mint to dealers and collectors and the number maybe quite a bit less than that. Over the three decades when I was a dealer, I seldom had more than two or three of these stamps in stock and those sold quickly.
Apparently the availability of the stamp of 1971 was not widely publicized and relatively few were purchased by collectors or dealers in India. Beginning about 1990 I began to receive periodic inquiries from India for these stamps.
There may have been official first day covers with the stamp, but I have never seen one. When I began collecting 1950-1985 Panama airmail covers, I was able to trade some older covers for a lot which originally came from the collection of David Leeds. It included two uses of the Gandhi stamps on cover. I found two other covers in dealers stocks. Then in August of this year(2007) I bought a specialized collection on Ebay. This was a collection of 205 covers organized by origin in Panama and almost all were from 1971 and 1972. Most were addressed to correspondence schools in Guatemala. This collection contained eight additional covers with franking with included a Gandhi stamp. It also included two pieces with the stamp clipped from airmail covers.
I selected three Gandhi for my collection and planned to sell the others on ebay. I had no idea what prices they would bring, but I suspected that there would be interest from thematic collectors, especially those in India. I listed the first cover with a starting bid of $9.99 and one of the two pieces with a starting bid of $0.99 what would happen. The listed cover had the Gandhi stamp on the back so it would probably have to be opened out for mounting in a collection. When the lots were listed the bidding started slowly, but a number of individuals were watching. There was a flurry of bidding during the last hour and the cover closed at $86.00 and piece sold for $29.00
Over the next two months I listed the other eight covers and the other item on piece. Later covers sold for even more than the first cover.
Attached below are some of the images that were sent to me by Jim Cross.