1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta sells for record US$9.4m

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 10:02pm


A one-cent postage stamp from a 19th century British colony in South America has become the world's most valuable stamp, again.

The 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta sold on Tuesday at auction in New York for US$9.5 million, Sotheby's said. It was the fourth time the stamp had set the auction record for a single stamp in its long history.

The stamp was expected to bring between US$10 million and US$20 million. Sotheby's said the buyer wished to remain anonymous.

David Redden, Sotheby's vice-chairman, called the sale of the stamp as a "a truly great moment for the world of stamp collecting".

"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," Redden said.

Measuring 2.54cm by 3.18cm, it hasn't been on public view since 1986 and is the only major stamp absent from the British royal family's private collection.

"You're not going to find anything rarer than this," said Allen Kane, director of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. "It's a stamp the world of collectors has been dying to see for a long time."

An 1855 Swedish stamp, which sold for US$2.3 million in 1996, previously held the auction record for a single stamp.

The last owner was John du Pont, an heir to the du Pont chemical fortune who was convicted of fatally shooting a 1984 Olympic champion wrestler. The stamp was sold by his estate, which will designate part of the proceeds to the Eurasian Pacific Wildlife Conservation Foundation that du Pont championed.

Printed in black on magenta paper, it bears the image of a three-masted ship and the colony's motto, in Latin: "We give and expect in return".

It went into circulation after a shipment of stamps was delayed from London and the postmaster asked printers for the Royal Gazette newspaper in Georgetown in British Guiana to produce three stamps until the shipment arrived: a one-cent magenta, a four-cent magenta and a four-cent blue.

While multiple examples of the four-cent stamps have survived, only one of the one-cent issue is known to exist.

Its first owner was a 12-year-old Scottish boy living in South America who added it to his collection after finding it among family papers in 1873. He soon sold it for a few shillings. The stamp then changed hands several times, selling for record prices in 1992 (US$35,000), 1970 (US$280,000) and 1980 (US$935,000).