The Story of... the most famous stamp in the world?

In 1856, E T E Dalton, the local postmaster of British colony of Guiana (now independent Guyana) was frustrated to hear that a shipment of stamps had failed to arrive. 

Not wishing the citizens to be without this extremely useful, and still relatively new, facility he commissioned an emergency production from a local printer. 

He was then further irritated to find that the printers had exercised creative input on the stamps over and above his simple specifications, and the three stamp types (two 4c stamps, one blue and one magenta, plus a 1c magenta for newspapers) had had a ship emblem added.

Dalton didn't like the design. He restricted its use to that one emergency issue, and also had post office clerks sign all the stamps as a guard against fraud. He would be astonished to hear that today his name is still mentioned as a result of these stamps.

Vernon Vaughan, a Scottish schoolboy discovered a 1c stamp on one of his uncle's letters in Demerara, the capital of British Guiana, in 1873. He sold it for the equivalent of $1.50 to a local collector.

The stamp has been heavily postmarked and dirtied, aside from the initials of postal clerk E D Wright carrying out Dalton's policy on the left hand side. It has also been cut into an octagon.

British Guiana 1c stamp
Behold, the world's most famous stamp: the 1c Magenta

Despite its parlous state, it is the only stamp of its kind known to still exist. As a result, it was picked up by the great rare stamp collector Count Ferrary and its value has escalated rapidly, making it a legend desired by collectors of valuable stamps everywhere including ...Donald Duck.

The unlikely philatelist sought the stamp in the 1952 comic by Carl Banks, The Gilded Man. He describes it as being worth "...over $50,000" which was already true even then.

The line between fact and fantasy has sometimes become blurred. Claims that the known example is a doctored example of the similar (and somewhat more common) 4c stamp have been discredited.

On the other hand there are still some who claim that an example owned by Peter Winter is genuine rather than a doctored 4c piece, even though the Royal Philatelic Society London has declared it a forgery, and Winter is famous for reproducing stamps - though usually quite openly, without an attempt to pass them off as the real thing.

The most famous story of the stamp is that the famous collector Arthur Hinds, who also owned the Bordeaux cover and other Mauritius 'Post Office' stamps, found another British Guiana 1c on sale in 1920 and destroyed it as soon as he bought it, so that there would only be one. This may or may not be an urban myth.

The one known genuine article has belonged to John du Pont, an athlete, ornithologist and philatelist since 1980. He paid $935,000 for it.

In 1997, du Pont was convicted of murdering his friend, Olympic wrestler David Schulz, without rational motive due to du Pont suffering from schizophrenia.

Experts estimate the stamp to be worth upwards of $5m. It is currently stored in a bank vault in the US, hidden from the world.


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