A humble, dirty and heavily postmarked 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp is set to become the world’s most valuable stamp—for the fourth time—when it goes up for auction tonight at Sotheby’s.
A humble, dirty and heavily postmarked 1-cent stamp from 19th-century British Guyana has become the world’s most valuable stamp—for the fourth time—realizing nearly 1 billion times its face value.
The 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta sold for $9.48 million on Tuesday evening at Sotheby’s in New York. It entered the auction with an estimated sales price of between $10 and $20 million.
“We are thrilled with tonight’s extraordinary, record-setting price of $9.5 million—a truly great moment for the world of stamp collecting,” said Sotheby’s Vice Chairman David Redden. “That price will be hard to beat, and likely won’t be exceeded unless the British Guiana comes up for sale again in the future. I have to say I’m a little sad to see it go; when I was 8 years old, this was the most precious object in the entire world, and I never dreamed I would have it in my hands.”
This little stamp, measuring just 1 inch-by-1¼ inches (2.5-by-3.2 centimeters), had broken world auction records for a single stamp three times already. It is the only one known in existence and is the only major British stamp missing from the British Royal Family’s private Royal Philatelic Collection.
An 1855 Swedish stamp had held the world record, realizing $2.3 million in 1996. The One-Cent Magenta hasn’t been on public view since 1986.
John E. du Pont, an heir to the du Pont chemical fortune who was convicted of fatally shooting a 1984 Olympic champion wrestler, purchased the stamp in 1980. It was sold by his estate, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Eurasian Pacific Wildlife Conservation Foundation, an organization du Pont supported.
Postage stamps originated in Brittan in 1840. A decade later, British Guyana was one of only three countries in the New World to issue stamps. In 1856, the country’s supply of stamps ran out, and the local postmaster contracted with a local newspaper printer to print more. These replacement stamps were issued in a blue, 4-cent version—which is very rare but examples do come up for sale occasionally—and a magenta 1-cent stamp. The stamp bears the image of a three-masted ship and the colony’s motto, in Latin, “we give and expect in return.”
“People who have devoted their lives to stamps for decades have never been able to see or handle this British Guyana,” said Selby Kiffer, Sotheby’s senior vice president for books & manuscripts and special projects. “It’s more than just the rarity. It’s the romance that it was printed just 16 years after the first stamp was produced.
“People expected other examples to turn up and, yet, none ever have,” said Kiffer.
Its first owner was 12-year-old Vernon Vaughn, who found it among family papers in 1873. “He decided to trade it to another stamp collector in British Guyana who had access to some of the more colorful and exciting-looking stamps,” Kiffer said.
That collector was Neil McKinnon, who held onto it for five years before selling it to Thomas Ridpath in England in 1878, who then resold it for £150 pounds to Count Philippe la Renotiere von Ferrary, one of the world’s greatest stamp collectors.
The stamp sold in 1922 to Arthur Hind, a textile magnate from Utica, N.Y., for the equivalent of $35,000 in 2014 dollars, the most every paid for a stamp at auction. After his death in 1935, Hind’s wife sold the stamp privately to Frederick Small for $45,000 in 1940.
“Count Ferrary is still considered the greatest stamp collector of all time,” said Kiffer. “This remained the crown jewel of his collection for over 40 years.”
An Austrian living in Paris, Ferrary, he died in 1916 during the First World War and his assets were seized by the French government. Following the war, the government decided to hold an auction and claimed the proceeds were part of war reparations owed to France by Germany.
The stamp sold in 1922 to Arthur Hind, a textile magnate from Utica, N.Y., for the equivalent of $35,000 in 2014 dollars, the most ever paid for a stamp at auction.
“Hind had a passion for stamps and he commissioned an agent to go after (the One-Cent Magenta),” said Kiffer. “Hind’s bid and a bid from another agent representing another private collector were very close. It’s long been speculated that under-bidder was King George V of Great Brittan. And in fact, to this day, the One-Cent 1856 Magenta is the only British Colonial stamp that is lacking from the Royal Philatelic Collection.”
Hind died in 1935 and it was expected the stamp would be auctioned with the rest of his collection, but his wife sued, claiming it was left to her. The court gave her possession of the stamp.
Hind’s wife sold the stamp privately to Frederick Small for $45,000 in 1940. After holding it to 30 years, Small consigned the stamp to a New York auction where it was purchased by Irwin Weinberg, a stamp dealer from Wilkes-Barre’s, Pa., for $280,000 in 1970—another record.
“Weinberg was very upfront that he bought the stamp as an investment and for 10 years, he did everything he could to promote the stamp,” said Kiffer.
The stamp logged its third world record in 1980 when du Pont bought it for $935,000.
“Again, and for the third time, a new record for a single stamp,” said Kiffer.
Until tonight, when it regained the title for the fourth time.
Gregory Watkins is the editor of WorthPoint.com You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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