The World’s Most Famous Stamp Estimated to Sell for $10-20 Million at Sotheby’s

LONDON, 24 March 2014—On 17 March 2014, the Expert Committee at the Royal Philatelic Society London - the oldest and most distinguished society of stamp scholars in the world - convened a special meeting with the singular purpose of re-authenticating the unique British Guiana One-Cent Magenta. Sotheby’s will offer the stamp in a dedicated auction in New York on 17 June, with a pre-sale estimate of $10/20 million*.

After close examination by each of the Committee’s six noted experts, including spectrometer analysis, the Committee has once again certified the British Guiana as genuine. The last time the Royal examined and certified the world’s most famous stamp was in 1935, marking a new generation of experts that have confirmed its place at the apex of the philatelic world.

David Redden, Vice Chairman of Sotheby’s, commented: “We deeply appreciate the Expert Committee at the Royal Philatelic Society convening a special meeting to review this extraordinary stamp. In the philatelic world, certification is considered best practice, as is modern day recertification using up-to-date connoisseurship and scientific techniques - a fascinating process that was an honor to witness with The British Guiana.”

Christopher Harman, past President of the Royal Philatelic Society and Chairman of the Expert Committee, said: “It was a privilege to see in the flesh one of the great icons that every collector has heard about, returning nearly 80 years since the British Guiana's last visit with us. With more experience and advanced technology, the Expert Committee undertook a thorough examination and I am very pleased to say that the ‘patient’ passed with flying colors. We thank Sotheby's for bringing back to us this celebrated piece of philatelic history.”

INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITIONS

The British Guiana has not been on view publicly since 1987, when it was exhibited at Cupex 87 in Perth, Australia**. Sotheby’s is pleased to share its public exhibition dates for The British Guiana this spring across the globe:

  • Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre 3 - 7 April
  • Sotheby’s London 1 - 5 June
  • Sotheby’s New York 7 - 17 June

ABOUT THE BRITISH GUIANA ONE-CENT MAGENTA

No stamp is rarer than The British Guiana, a unique yet unassuming penny issue from 1856, and no stamp is more valuable: each of the three times it has been sold at auction, it has established a new record price for a single stamp. The British Guiana is equally notable for its legacy, having been rediscovered by a 12-year-old Scottish boy living in South America in 1873, and from there passing through some of the most important stamp collections ever assembled.

In 1852, British Guiana began receiving regular postage stamps manufactured in England by Waterlow & Sons. But in 1856, a shipment of stamps was delayed, which threatened a disruption of postal service throughout British Guiana. The postmaster turned to the printers of the local Royal Gazette  newspaper, and commissioned a contingency supply of postage stamps: a one-cent magenta, a four-cent magenta, and a four-cent blue.

The sole-surviving example of the one-cent magenta was first rediscovered not far from where it was initially purchased. In 1873, L. Vernon Vaughan, a 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy living with his family in British Guiana, found the stamp among a group of family papers bearing many British Guiana issues. A budding philatelist’ (stamp collector), Vaughan could not have known the one-cent was unique, but he did know that he did not have an example, and added it to his album. He would later sell the stamp to another local collector in British Guiana, for several shillings.

The British Guiana One-Cent entered the UK in 1878, and shortly after, it was purchased by Count Philippe la Renotière von Ferrary, perhaps the greatest stamp collector in history. France seized his collection, which had been donated to the Postmuseum in Berlin, as part of the war reparations due from Germany, and sold the stamp in 1922 as one of a series of celebrated auctions from 1920-25. It was bought by Arthur Hind, a textile magnate from New York, for its first auction-record price of $35,000, followed by: Australian engineer Frederick T. Small; then a consortium headed by Irwin Weinberg; and lastly by John du Pont, heir to the eponymous chemical company fortune, eccentric amateur sportsman, and avid collector. Du Pont paid $935,000 for the stamp in a 1980 auction, marking the object’s most recent record-setting price.

HISTORY OF OWNERSHIP

1873

L. VERNON VAUGHAN, BRITISH GUIANA

• Discovered by the Scottish schoolboy living in South America, among family papers

1873

NEIL R. MCKINNON, BRITISH GUIANA

• Purchased from Vaughan

• Sent to Glasgow, Scotland for inspection

1878

THOMAS RIDPATH, LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND

• Purchased from McKinnon

• Recognized the stamp’s rarity

1878

PHILIPPE LA RENOTIÈRE VON FERRARY, FRANCE

• Purchased from Ridpath

• Austrian nobleman and owner of the world’s most famous stamp collection, who moved to Switzerland at outbreak of World War I

• Bequeathed his collection to Postmuseum in Berlin at his death

• Ferrary Collection seized by France as war reparations and sold in a celebrated series of 14 auctions from 1920 to 1925, including The British Guiana in 1922

1922

ARTHUR HIND, UTICA, NEW YORK

• Purchased at the auction by dealer Hugo Griebert on behalf of Hind. Set then-record auction price of $35,000

1933

WIDOW OF ARTHUR HIND, NEW YORK

• Hind's will directed that his collection should be sold for the benefit of his estate. His widow successfully contested this, saying Hind had given her the stamp in his lifetime.

• Hind’s widow continued to exhibit and display the stamp

• Sold to Frederick T. Small by Finbar Kenny, Manager of the stamp department of R.H. Macy of New York, after the 1940 World’s Fair exhibition

1940

FREDERICK T. SMALL, FLORIDA

• Australian living in Florida

• Consigned for auction with Robert Siegel of New York, 1970

1970

IRWIN WEINBERG STAMP CONSORTIUM

• Irwin Weinberg led a consortium of buyers at the auction. Set then-record auction price of $280,000

• Consigned to auction in 1980

1980

JOHN E. DU PONT, PENNSYLVANIA

• Purchased at auction for then-record price of $935,000

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