09 June 2021

British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp sets new auction record

1¢ British Guiana
Sold for $8,307,000

-The SG Bulletin

A photograph of the 1856 One-Cent Magenta used an infrared filter to suppress the stamp's red surface, making the black printing more visible.

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

"Blemished, battered and cut, the "British Guiana One-Cent Black on Magenta" is a stamp with a twisty tale to tell, one that begins in the hands of a young Scottish boy and passes through the hands of a killer," wrote my colleague Laurel Dalrymple in 2014, when Weitzman bought it for $9.5 million.

"The stamp was printed just 16 years after the introduction of postage stamps," she continued. "The postmaster in British Guiana (now Guyana), facing a stamp shortage, asked the colony's newspaper to print an emergency supply while awaiting a shipment of stamps from London.

"Displeased with the quality of the printing, the postmaster asked each postal clerk to initial the stamps upon sale to prevent fraud. The One-Cent bears the initials "EDW," those of clerk E.D. Wight, and a postmark of April 4, 1856, from the town of Demerara.

"The stamp's first owner was a Scottish boy named Vernon Vaughan who found it in 1873 among his family's letters. He sold it to a local collector for 6 shillings (The Washington Post says that was about $1.50 back then)."

Since then, the stamp has passed through the world's great collections, was seized by the French as reparations from Germany in 1920 and was owned for a while by John DuPont, a scion of one of America's richest families, even after he was convicted of murdering a wrestler in 1997.

Another devoted philatelist who saw the One-Cent Magenta in 2016 at the World Stamp Show in New York, likened the experience to seeing the actual Mona Lisa. (Meaning: it's less overwhelming than you'd think.) "Look, I don't want to get kicked out of the philately club," laughs Warachal Eileen Faison, who runs a philately organization geared towards African American collectors. "But as we were standing there in line, I could hear other people—and it wasn't me – saying, 'Is that it?'"

Still, the One-Cent Magenta is more than just a stamp, says Faison. "At least for me. Who touched the stamp? Who had it in their possession?" This most recent sale, she says, gives us a chance to reflect on how many of the ordinary things we touch today might also be histories in miniature.

The Inverted Jenny Plate Block sold for ‘only’ $4.86 million.  

A Collector’s Rare Treasures Set Records at Sotheby’s

The proceeds from Stuart Weitzman’s “Inverted Jennies,” a 1933 gold piece known as the double eagle and the One-Cent Magenta stamp will go to charitable ventures.

The “Inverted Jenny,” the postage stamp famously misprinted with an airplane upside down, climbed to a new height on Tuesday when a block of four sold for $4.9 million, a record for a United States stamp at auction and $2 million more than its last reported sale price.

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