The Mona Lisa of Stamp Collecting - Rediscovering the British Guiana-One Cent Magenta


Dec 04, 2014 Europe/London

In the world of fine arts, the Mona Lisa has managed to charm collectors and enthusiasts looking to understand history and the kind of arts that prevailed in the past, particularly during Renaissance. The mysterious smile, the expert craftsmanship and of course the story surrounding the portrait and the artist all helped in boosting the standing of the artwork, thus making it as one of the priciest works of art around. But did you know that this pricey artwork has its counterpart in the world of philately? There’s one postage stamp that is highly sought-after, rare and according to reports its value is expected to appreciate even further. It’s the 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp that fetched $9.5 million when it was sold to the public. Roughly measuring one-inch by one-and-a quarter inch, this small (but pricey) postage stamp is now the world’s most valuable stamp around. What adds up to its value is the rarity - there’s only one available British Guiana, thus the stamp collector not only buys this small stamp but also acquires exclusivity.

Most valuable postage stamp, colorful history to boot

The story of the Magenta is one for the books and a high-end collection. The highly-prized stamp was recently acquired by a multi-millionaire that was also convicted of murdering an Olympian. Its beginning was also remarkable. The stamp was printed 158 years ago, after the postmaster requested the printing of stamps after the original delivery of postal materials was delayed from England to Guyana, known then as Guiana.

The actual bidding for the stamp was also full of stories. During the auction at Sotheby’s in Manhattan, an anonymous caller on the phone won the bidding. According to David Redden, this stamp always got a high value every time this was offered to the public. It remained as one of the most popular and valuable stamps through the years. The authenticity of the stamp was verified in 1935 and was officially confirmed in 2014 by Royal Philatelic Society of London.

The stamp was first discovered by L. Vernon Vaughn in 1873 while rummaging through family papers. And through the years, the stamp passed hands and was even included in the collection of many famed collectors like Count Philippe la Renotiere von Ferrary. In 1980, the stamp was acquired for $935,000 by Du Pont, making this as one of the most valuable stamps on record.  The other stamp that rivalled this stamp in terms of value was the Treskilling Yellow, a misprint of 1855 shilling stamp from Sweden that was printed in wrong color.