A COLLECTION of Victorian stamps, saved from being burnt and kept under lock and key for decades, is going under the hammer this week.

The rare assortment - including a Penny Black - takes up about 20 lots in a sale at Tennants, in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, today.

In a remarkable story, the collector was first shown the stamps by a local farmer when he was working on the North Yorks Moors in 1968.

He was taken into a room and astonishingly found the floor covered inches-deep in Victorian stamps.

In return for cataloguing the entire collection - a job that took him three years - the worker was allowed to keep a selection for himself, which he is now selling.

The farmer had told the man he bought four sackloads of Victorian stamps at a local farm sale from a man who, without appreciating their value, had already burnt eight sackfuls of them.

The remains of the four sacks are believed to still be in the area, although the farmer in question has since died.

Tennants stamp specialist Jane Wiltshire said she felt a surge of excitement when she was shown the stamps, which had been stored in a bank vault since the early 1970s.

The collection ranges from Penny Reds - the first stamps with perforated edges - and Penny Blues, to stamps from the reigns of Edward VII, George V and George VI.

"It is a real treat when such a fine collection is brought in with a lovely story attached to it," she said. "These stamps will generate a lot of interest among collectors worldwide."

The 620-lot sale, which also includes cards and coins, will be held at 1.30pm on Tuesday. A book sale will be held on Friday, at 10.30am.