At first glance, it could be an old piece of paper with blackcurrant juice spilled on it.
It is actually, in terms of size, weight and material, possibly the most valuable object in the world. When it goes up for auction in June, it is expected to sell between $ 10 million and $ 15 million., more than a billion times its original value.
The piece of paper is the One-Cent Magenta from British Guiana, which was created in 1856 and is the most famous and valuable stamp in the world.
“It’s the Mona Lisa of philately,” said David Beech, a philatelic expert. “It is the only stamp that all philatelists and collectors would have heard and seen an illustration of.”
The stamp, the only one of its kind, was displayed at Sotheby’s headquarters in London ahead of its sale in New York and will be on public view this week.
Beech, a former curator of the British Library’s philatelic collections, said its fame was enhanced by both the people who owned it and those who desperately wanted it.
The stamp was created in British Guiana, now Guyana, when a shortage of stamps generally imported from England threatened to disrupt the colony’s postal service.
The penny stamp was used primarily to deliver newspapers and most of them would have been thrown away. Beech said the question was minor, why is there only one today? But more, “it is a miracle that a seal has survived”.
It was discovered in 1873 by a 12-year-old budding philatelist named Vernon Vaughan, a Scottish boy living in British Guiana. He found it in his uncle’s papers, thought it looked valuable, and sold it for six shillings.
The stamp went through collectors before being discovered by Count Philipp La Rénotière von Ferrary of Paris, who dedicated his life to philately and amassed the largest and most comprehensive stamp collection in history. He died of a heart attack in 1917, leaving his stamps “with pride and joy to my German homeland.”
France seized the Berlin collection in 1920, selling the stamps at auction with the proceeds deducted from Germany’s war reparations.
The auction was attended by agents of the world’s largest collectors, including King George V of England and King Carol II of Romania. The winning bidder, who set a world record for a single stamp, was a Bradford-born industrialist named Arthur Hind, who made his fortune in the United States making upholstery fabrics.
Subsequent owners include an Australian engineer named Frederick T Small who kept his property so quiet that, it is said, his wife did not even know he had bought it.
It was sold in 1980 for a record price of $ 935,000 to an anonymous bidder, who was later revealed to be John du Pont, the eccentric millionaire, amateur sportsman and dedicated stamp collector who murdered wrestler Dave Schultz, a strange story told in the film. Foxcatcher starring Steve. Carell.
Its current owner is the American designer Stuart Weitzman, known as the shoe designer to the stars.
Previous owners have made their own little marks on the back of the stamp. Weitzman’s trademark is a stiletto heel next to his initials SW.
In philately, the stamp is something of a Holy Grail. Beech recalled seeing it at an exhibition in Brussels in 1972. “You would see it inside a small safe and there was a line of people. It was a bit like looking at the crown jewels, you had about five seconds to look inside this dark safe. “
Each of the four times the stamp has been sold at auction has achieved a world record price for a single stamp and that is expected once again at the June 8 auction in New York. The proceeds will benefit charities, the auction house said.
David Goldthorpe, Senior Director at Sotheby’s, said the stamp’s provenance was fascinating. “It’s the ultimate collectible, it talks about the mania of collecting, the thrill of the chase. And there is only one. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism