The British Guiana one-cent magenta was sold at auction by Sotheby's in New York on June 17 for a record $9.5 million (£5.6 million) which included a buyer's premium. The auction lasted a mere two minutes before an anonymous telephone bidder bought the world's most famous stamp in front of a filled gallery.
The British Guiana one-cent magenta is not only the world's most valuable stamp, it is also the rarest stamp in existence. The stamp that just sold for the record price is the only copy known to exist.
The famous stamp was sold at the New York auction by the estate of du Pont Chemical heir John E. du Pont. Du Pont purchased the rare stamp in 1980 for the then-record price of $935,000. Du Pont died in prison in 2010 while serving a sentence for the 1996 murder of David Schultz, a champion U.S. wrestler, who was living on du Pont's estate.
The previous record price for a rare stamp sold in public auction was set in 1996 when the only known copy of the 1855 Swedish Treskilling Yellow stamp was sold for $2.3 million (2,880,000 Swiss francs). That stamp was sold again at a private auction in 2010 for an undisclosed price which was reported to be "at least the $2.3 million price" that it sold for in 1996.
History of the British Guiana one-cent magenta
In 1856, an expected shipment of stamps from England did not arrive in British Guiana (now Guyana), so the local postmaster hired a local printer to print an emergency issue of three stamps. The 1 cent magenta was intended for use on local newspapers. The other two stamps, the British Guiana 4 cent magenta and the British Guiana 4 cent blue, were for letter postage.
The only surviving example of the one-cent magenta was first discovered in 1873 by a 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy living in the Guyanese town of Demerara (whose postmark the stamp bears). He sold it some weeks later for six shillings to a local collector, whose collection in turn was sold in 1878 to a Liverpool stamp dealer for £120. Later the same year, dealer sold the stamp to Count Philippe la Renotière von Ferrary for about £150.
The Count's huge stamp collection was donated to the Postmuseum in Berlin. The entire collection was seized by France as war reparations following the end of World War I. France sold the famous stamp in 1922 to an American collector, New York textile magnate Arthur Hind. Hind bought the rare stamp for over $36,000, reportedly outbidding three kings, including King George V of England.
In 1940, the one cent magenta was purchased for $40,000 by Fred "Poss" Small, an Australian-born engineer from Florida, who completed a full set of stamps from British Guiana with the purchase of the rare stamp.
In 1970, Small auctioned his entire stamp collection. The one cent magenta stamp was bought by a group of Pennsylvanian investors, headed by Irwin Weinberg, for $280,000.
In 1980, the rare stamp was purchased by du Pont for the then-record price of $935,000.