Britons snapped up Apple (AAPL) iPhones at a healthy clip over the weekend, according to sales estimates that appeared in the British press this morning.

The
Guardian
and The Times quote Peter Erskine, CEO of O2 UK, estimating that “tens of thousands” of the devices were sold at Apple, O2 and Carphone Warehouse stores over the weekend. The Mirror, citing an unnamed O2 spokesperson, put the number at 70,000, according to
Macworld U.K.

Erskine went on to call the iPhone the fastest-selling device his network has ever seen. He said 2/3 of the iPhone customers were new to O2, which suggests that they were lured away from Vodafone (VOD), Orange or T-Mobile. (link)

The sales figures went a long way to countering early suggestions — including one here — that the iPhone might be getting a tepid reception in the U.K. A thinly reported story in The Register went so far as to call first night of sales a “flop,” and Apple stock fell on Monday in part reacting to such perceptions.

But Apple’s partners in both the U.K. and Germany, where the iPhone went on sale Friday at midnight, insist that sales met or exceeded their expectations. The U.K. cellphone market is particularly tough to crack because it is so saturated; there are more cellphones in Britain than people.

When population size is taken into account, however, U.K. sales may even have exceeded those in the U.S.

The U.S. population is roughly 300 million. Germany’s population is 82 million; the U.K.’s is 60 million.

T-Mobile, which carries the iPhone in Germany, hasn’t released weekend sales figures, but said that it sold more than 10,000 iPhones that first day. In the U.S., Apple sold 270,000 iPhones during the first weekend of sales; as many as 200,000 may have been purchased that first day. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster did the math for Germany’s first-day sales and calculated that Apple sold 1 iPhone for every 8,200 Germans compared with 1 iPhone for every 1,510 Americans.

If the 70,000 figure for U.K. sales is accurate, Apple may have sold 1 iPhone for every 860 Britains in 2 1/2 days as opposed to 1 iPhone for every 1,111 Americans.