Magenta one-cent stamp auctioned for $ 8.3 million

The one-cent magenta stamp, issued in British Guiana in 1856, was auctioned for US $ 8.3 million at Sotheby’s in New York, confirming its place as the most valuable stamp in history, Reuters reported today.

The stamp is the only survivor of a series that was printed by then British Guiana due to a shortage of stamps sent by its then British colonial rulers.

The stamp was sold by shoe designer and collector Stuart Weitzman. The designer had bought it in 2014 for US $ 9.5 million and continued a tradition started by previous owners by adding his own flourish – a line drawing of a heeled shoe and his initials – to the back. of the stamp.

The buyer of the stamp wished to remain anonymous, Sotheby’s said.

In addition, Reuters said a 24-cent inverted Jenny stamp plate block, issued in 1918 for the first American air letters, sold for $ 4.9 million. It is the most valuable American stamp.

The Inverted Jenny, which was last auctioned 26 years ago for $ 2.9 million, is a collector’s item due to a printing error in which its biplane design appears on the ‘towards.

A recent Stabroek News editorial on the One Cent Black on Magenta stamp follows:

The One Cent Black on Magenta
(Posted on May 14, 2021)

It might surprise young Guyanese to know that the heritage element originating in this most famous country internationally is a tiny octagonal piece of paper that most of them would have thrown in the trash if they had encountered it in during their daily life. Activities. Given that the new generation spends so much of their time with social media, WhatsApp, and email, the notion of a stamp must seem like a rather foreign concept, representing a throwback to a bygone era when postal mail was all the rage. But in the specialized universe of philatelists, there is a cachet that catches the attention of all collectors without exception as well as all serious press houses on the planet. It is the rarest stamp in the world, and it comes from Guyana.

It’s called the One Cent Black on Magenta, and despite its unappealing appearance, according to the Guardian, it is expected to fetch up to $ 15 million at its June 8 auction in New York City. Its rarity is a consequence of the fact that it is one of a kind, and given the climatic conditions of this country and our casual approach to preservation, it may be a miracle that it survived. To give a comparative idea of ​​its value, perhaps, the online edition of the journal included a photograph of someone reading Shakespeare’s first folio, depicting an original copy of his collected works of 1623 which sold in 2020 for $ 9.97 million. Only six complete copies of it exist, and it is the most expensive printed work of literature ever to be auctioned.

As for the stamp, it is magenta in color, is neither perforated nor gummed, and according to the ‘bible’ of the history of British Guiana stamps by Townsend and Howe, was printed in 1856 on a hand press by Baum and Dallas, the printers and publishers of the Official Journal. The main design is that of a three-masted ship with the words “Damus Petimus” above and “Que Vicissim” below. It also bears the words “British Guyana” and its name, “One Cent”. (Damus Petimus Que Vicissim was the motto of British Guiana, and was a quote from the Roman poet Horace, meaning: “We give and we ask in return.”) British Guiana stamps then were normally imported from the metropolis , but for at some point in 1856 there appeared to have been an interruption in supply, and authorities therefore resorted to local printing.

It is undoubtedly difficult for the citizens here to conceptualize how much excitement the occasional appearance of magenta generates, but according to the Guardian, “the stamp is kind of a holy grail.” He quotes David Beech, a philatelic expert who saw the stamp at an exhibition in Brussels in 1972: “You saw the thing inside a small safe and there was a line of people. It was kind of like seeing the Crown Jewels, you had about five seconds to look in that dark safe. Magenta has been auctioned four times, and each time it has garnered a record price for a stamp.

Townsend and Howe tell the story of the stamp’s discovery, citing an AD Ferguson, a prominent philatelist in the colony at the time, who provided an account in the British Guyana Philatelic Journal (yes, Guyana once had his own philatelic journal). It was a 12-year-old schoolboy named Vernon Vaughan who began collecting stamps in 1872 who first found it on a letter sheet the following year while searching for stamps in family papers. It seems he didn’t impress her, but put it in his stamp album anyway. Subsequently, he decided to remove a stamp from the album to sell it and chose magenta as the one that mattered the least to him.

He gifted it to NR McKinnon, a known collector, who at first was not interested, but then changed his mind and offered him six shillings, which he said the boy was a risk. Even then, six shillings was not an impressive sum. There are slightly different versions of what happened to him immediately after, Ferguson claiming that McKinnon kept it for ten years, then sold it in London for £ 25, after which it was on display in some exhibitions until that it is purchased for an undisclosed amount by Count Philipp La Rénotière von Ferrary of Paris. According to the Guardian, this man “devoted his life to stamp collecting and amassed the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps in history.” A different version was only kept by McKinnon until 1878 when it was sold to someone by the name of Ridpath, who sold it to Ferrary the same year. The first part of the latter’s name notwithstanding, he was in fact German, and he bequeathed his collection to Germany upon his death in 1917.

The Guardian then broaches the question of ownership, reporting that France seized the Berlin collection in 1920 and sold it at auction. The proceeds of the sale were deducted from the amount Germany owed in war reparations to the Allies. The newspaper describes how the world’s greatest collectors sent representatives to the auction in 1922, which was won by industrialist Arthur Hind, who made his fortune in the United States making upholstery fabrics.

Subsequent owners included an Australian engineer named Frederick T Small, while in 1980 an anonymous bidder purchased the stamp for US $ 935,000. The Guardian says the buyer turned out to be millionaire John de Pont, who was convicted of murdering wrestler Dave Schultz and later died in prison. The current owner is shoe designer Stuart Weitzmann.

Inevitably, perhaps, since it was the only one of its kind, there have been accusations in the last century that the stamp was a forgery or even a forgery, but this was eventually debunked after the Magenta was released. submitted to a committee of experts in 1937. According to Townsend and Howe, during its inquiries, the committee retained the services of an expert in photography, Colonel Mansfield, who had often testified as an expert in cases courts where documents have been altered. He had no doubt that the Magenta had not undergone any modification.

And as for the scarcity of the stamp, it is believed to be a consequence of the fact that it was used for newspapers of the time, which were invariably discarded after being read. Townsend and Howe raise a small question though, which is that Vaughan said many years later that he took it out of a sheet of letter, not a journal, and they wonder if his memory was in. fault. They note, however, that he retained his interest in stamps until the end of his life and that he was important in the British Guyana Philatelic Society. He died in 1949.

Citizens here are probably wondering why a stamp auctioned in New York should be a problem here. After all, although it’s from Guyana, they probably think it’s not from Guyana, especially since it’s unlikely to fall into the hands of a multi-millionaire Guyanese philatelist anytime soon; after all, it’s a genre that belongs to a fantasy world. For all this, the Magenta represents a small example of the heritage of this country, even if it escaped these shores several moons ago.

In fact, there is probably good reason to claim that he survived precisely because he escaped from these shores many moons ago. If he had stayed here, it would have been eaten by a bookworm, collapsed to dust, or actively destroyed. We have had a very cavalier approach to our material heritage, large and small, over the centuries, and modern governments have shown no willingness to remedy this failure.

Everything associated with paper has a particularly short lifespan here, and for some reason successive administrations have shown no embarrassment that without aliens and alien records we would not be able to piece together a narrative. very consistent with our history. Does anyone in this country have a copy of the British Guyana Philatelic Journal for example? Is a local library? If it still exists somewhere, perhaps the most likely place is the British Library in London.

We haven’t done much better in terms of built heritage, destroying so many structures that have given our urban areas in particular their character. And since our governments seem blessed without imagination, our spaces are filled with buildings that have no connection with our unique building traditions, or with the local people who created them during the days of slavery, and who have then proceeded to improve their style during the engagement period. From Cheddi Jagan Airport to Mahaica, we might as well live in a small town in west-central America.

So perhaps we should look at what the Guardian calls “the most precious object in the world” by its “size, its weight and its material”, not with detached eyes, but with a certain respect, since what whatever her travels through the world of millionaires, she is still part of our heritage. May it serve to remind us of what we must do in terms of preservation and conservation of heritage so that we have a connection with our past in all its aspects, and will know how to give it meaning. Every nation has a heritage, and we have a duty to take care of ours.


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