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New York to auction world's most famous stamp

15 february 2014, 14:10
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A staff member points to the "British Guiana One-Cent Stamp" at the Sotheby's gallery. ©Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
A staff member points to the "British Guiana One-Cent Stamp" at the Sotheby's gallery. ©Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
The world's most famous postage stamp, a tiny piece of British colonial memorabilia from 19th century South America, is going under the hammer in New York for $10 to $20 million, AFP reports.

It was made in 1856 in Guyana and Sotheby's will sell the magenta stamp, which bares the postmater's initials, on June 17.

Last bought in 1980 by convicted murderer and American multi-millionaire, John du Pont, it has not been seen in public since going on display at a stamp exhibition in Chicago in 1986.

Since 1922 it has three times broken the record for the price of a single stamp sold at auction and Sotheby's estimated value puts it way ahead of the last known record of $2.5 million.

"The estimate is very realistic for the rarity we're dealing with," David Redden, Sotheby's director of special projects, told AFP, adding "this stamp has extraordinary fame and charisma."

The oldest surviving stamp in the world dates back to 1840 but the British Guiana One Cent Magenta is the most celebrated and in remarkable condition given it is more than 150 years old.

Octagonal, printed in black ink and measuring one by 1.25 inches (2.54 by 3.18 centimeters), it is hinged to a paper backing.

Redden said the stamp was the sole-surviving example of a one-cent magenta, missing even from the British royal family's philatelic collection.

Shining star of collector's world

It is "the largest shining star in the very distance in the great universe of collecting," Redden said.

Colonial Guyana depended on supplies of stamps from England, but when a shipment was delayed in 1856 the postmaster commissioned a contingency supply.

The printers of the local Royal Gazette newspaper quickly ran off one-cent and four-cent magentas, and a four-cent blue.

The only surviving example of the one-cent was rediscovered in 1873 by Vernon Vaughan, a 12-year-old Scottish boy living with his family in British Guyana.

He found it among some family papers and added the stamp to his album. Vaughan then sold it to another collector for a few shillings and the stamp made its way to Britain in 1878.

It was bought by French Count Philippe la Renotiere von Ferrary, perhaps the greatest stamp collector in history, and later donated to a museum in Berlin.

After World War I, France seized his collection as part of war reparations due from Germany and sold the stamp in 1922 at auction to Arthur Hind, a textile magnate from New York.

Hind paid a then record $35,000 for the stamp. It sold for a second record of $280,000 in 1970 and was bought in 1980 by the late du Pont for a third record of $935,000.

In a case that shocked the United States, du Pont shot dead Dave Schultz, an Olympic gold medal freestyle wrestler, at his estate in Pennsylvania in 1996 and died in prison in 2010.

The stamp is being sold by his estate. It will go on display at Sotheby's in London, Hong Kong and New York before the auction.

Current day Guyana, which won independence from Britain in 1966, is a small but poor nation of about 700,000 people.

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