5630 Dunbar St. at 41st Ave.

Newsletter #252, June 15 2014

British Guiana 1c Magenta

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The Holy Grail of Stamp Collecting is being sold by Sotheby's New York on 17 June 2014

The unique and fabled 1856 1c black on magenta British Guiana stamp is being offered by Sotheby's New York, on 17 June 2014, in a single stamp auction.  It isn't much to look at, but it bears out the classic law of supply, demand, and condition--when there is only one and someone with means wants something no-one else has, it will cost you. The presale estimate is US$10,000,000 to $20,000,000.

 British Guiana 1c Magenta
Although the stamp was locally printed in early 1856, it was not discovered until 1873 when a 12-year old schoolboy named Louis Vernon Vaughn soaked it off an Uncle's saved postal item-likely a special April 4th edition of the British Guiana gazette. He sold it for the equivalent of $1.44 and within 5 years it was sold to Philipp La Renatoire von Ferrary, in Paris, for about $200.  

The corners are trimmed off, the colour resembles firecracker red wrapping paper, and the crudely printed stamp bears the initials of Colonial Post Office clerk Edmond Dalzell Wight as a security measure.  

It took until 1891 for the philatelic world to recognize the uniqueness of Ferrary's British Guiana sleeper.  Contemporary accounts describe the stamp as somewhat rubbed, which Sotheby's wisely notes is something that the stamp paper used for this and similar British Guiana issues is prone to.  This is important as modern recertification notes that the rubbing has been repaired by painting over the paper flaw so that the recolouring soaks through the stamp, unlike other similar British Guiana issues from that time.  

By 1893, the early stamp catalogues began to list Ferrary's stamp, estimating it's value at $500.  In 1899, the owner of Stanley Gibbons suggested $5,000. was a realistic value for the stamp. Ferrary hid the stamp away in his Paris hotel lodgings, now the official residence of the French Prime Minister, but apparently pulled the unique stamp out of his wallet when someone tried to convince him of the beauty and merits of an expensive painting, and said he would not part with his prized stamp for less than $15,000.

World War One trapped the Austrian born Ferrary in Holland, and he died in Switzerland in 1917.  He left his stamps, perhaps the finest stamp collection ever assembled, to the Berlin Postal Museum.  The French government seized the stamps as enemy property and sold them in 1922 as part of the Treaty of Versailles German war reparations to France.  It is suggested that the recolouring of the 1c black on Magenta may have taken place while the stamp was in Ferrary's collection.  You might have thought they would add some corners as well.  The French government got $32,500. for Ferrary's unique stamp.  

American Industrialist Arthur Hind bought it for far less than his top bid of $60,000.  It is apparently untrue that he subsequently purchased a second example then burnt it with a lit cigar to protect the uniqueness of his prized stamp.  When he died in 1933, Hind left most of his fortune to his family, and his still-young widow Ann claimed he had promised the British Guiana 1c black on Magenta to her.  She won the case when it was discovered the rarity was not in his bank vault, but in a registered letter in their home.  It had come back from a stamp exhibition Hind had loaned it to, and Ann had been left the house and contents.  She failed to find a buyer and had to lower her expectations upon the death of England's King George V.  Sotheby's claims it is the only British Colonial stamp missing from the collection Queen Elizabeth II inherited from her father, King George V.  Ann sold it in 1940 for $45,000 through Macy's New York stamp department.  

Robert Siegel auctioned the stamp in New York in March 1970 for $280.000.  A decade later, Siegel reauctioned the rarity for $935,000.  John E. duPont, heir to the duPont Chemicals fortune, owned it until his death.  I was fortunate to see it at the Ameripex Stamp Show in Chicago in 1986, the last time it was on display in North America. DuPont apparently slept with it under his pillow at least once, after it arrived back too late from an Australian stamp show in 1987.  

The 1c black on Magenta British Guiana stamp made it back into the bank vault the next day.  It has survived use on a newspaper, storage in a tropical climate, trimming, repainting, two wars, world travels, and even the murder of an Olympic wrestler.

Unique, fabled, but not priceless.  How much will it sell for?  What will the new owner do with it?  Another chapter is waiting to be written in the story of what Sotheby's calls The World's Most Famous Stamp.

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Newsletter #253
Vancouver Photographer Fred Herzog Honoured by Canada Post

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