British Guiana 1c Magenta stamp to break world record?

The world-famous British Guiana 1c Magenta stamp has appeared for sale with Sotheby's New York, fresh from the estate of legendary collector John du Pont.

British Guiana 1c Magenta
The stamp is in used condition and has been cut into an octagonal shape by postmaster ETE Dalton, who has added his signature

The stamp, a renowned philatelic gem that is known by every collector around the world, will sell with a $10m-20m estimate. At that price, the stamp would break all auction records for a single stamp - a feat it has achieved several times before.

It will sell on June 17 in a dedicated auction.

"I have been with Sotheby's all my working life, but before I knew about the world's greatest works of art, before I knew about the Mona Lisa or Chartres Cathedral I knew about the British Guiana," commented director of special projects and worldwide chairman of Sotheby's books department, David Redden.

"For me, as a schoolboy stamp collector, it was a magical object, the very definition of rarity and value, unobtainable rarity and extraordinary value.

"That schoolboy of long ago would be bemused and astonished to think that he would one day, years later, be temporary guardian of such a world treasure."

Adding to the excitement is the fact that the stamp has not been on view publicly since 1986, when it was featured at Ameriplex '86 International Stamp Show in Chicago. Philatelists will be treated to a tour this spring, which includes London, Hong Kong and New York.

The stamp was born in 1856, when the British Guiana (now independent Guyana) postmaster ordered the printers of a local newspaper to produce a contingency supply of stamps, in order to remedy a shortage caused by the delay of a shipment from England. The colony had been receiving stamps manufactured by Waterlow & Sons in the UK since 1856.

The 1c Magenta from this contingency issue was thought to have been lost to history, until a Scottish schoolboy living in the colony discovered the sole-surviving example in a pile of family papers. It was first believed to be fake, simply a doctored example of the 4c Magenta from the same issue.

Not realising its true value, schoolboy L Vernon Vaughan sold the stamp to a local collector for just a few shillings. In 1878, it entered the UK and was purchased by Count Philippe la Renotiere von Ferrary - one of the greatest stamp collectors ever to have lived.

When Ferrary's collection was donated to the Berlin Postmuseum, France seized it as part of reparations from the first world war, selling the British Guiana 1c Magenta in 1922 as part of a series of auctions that have since gone down in philatelic lore. It was bought by industrialist Arthur Hind, who paid the first record-setting price of $35,000.

During Hind's ownership of the 1c Magenta, it was rumoured that another example had been discovered. However, the rumour goes on to say that Hind bought the second example himself and destroyed it, preserving the uniqueness of his original stamp.

John Du Pont
John du Pont during his jail time for murder

The British Guiana 1c Magenta has since passed through some of the most illustrious collections of the 20th century, before ending up with John du Pont, heir to the du Pont family fortune.

Famed for his eccentricities, as well as a murder conviction, du Pont paid another record price of $935,000 in 1980. At this point, the stamp was buried deep within du Pont's collection and the philatelic community has been pining for its return ever since.

A film of du Pont's fascinating life, Foxcatcher, is due to be released later this year.

Discover more of the British Guiana 1c Magenta's fascinating story here.

The current auction record for a single stamp is held at $2.3m by the Treskilling Yellow, which sold through David Feldman in 1996.

The rest of du Pont's British Guiana collection will auction through David Feldman on June 27.

Paul Fraser Collectibles specialises in offering the world's finest stamps for sale, such as the unique Black Empress - a stamp so fine that Bill Gross-dealer Charles Shreve commented, "I've never seen a stamp of that rarity or that age, a classic stamp, in that perfect a condition."


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