Rare Stamps: British Guiana stamp (found by a schoolboy) sells for US $9.5 million

In the 19th century, the stamps of British Guiana were printed by a British printer, Waterlow & Sons. The one-cent magenta is not an error.  In early 1856, the stock of stamps was sold out before the fresh shipment from England arrived and threatened to disrupt postal services throughout the colony.

The postmaster of British Guiana E.T.E. Dalton, facing a potential local crisis, needed stamps in a hurry so he asked the firm of Joseph Baum and William Dallas to print a small, emergency consignment of three stamps – the 1c magenta, the 4c magenta, and the 4c blue and all three now rank in the Top 50 List of the rarest stamps in the world. The 4c British Guiana magenta stamp, printed in the same batch in 1856, ranges in value from $7,500 to $60,000.


These stamps were printed in sheet format, they were imperforate, printed in black on coloured paper, and feature a sailing ship along with the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and expect in return) in the middle. Four thin lines frame the ship. The stamp’s country of issue and value in small black upper case lettering in turn surround the frame.

Image   Image

Although Dalton gave some specifications about the design, the printer chose to add a ship image of their own design to stamps. It is reported that Dalton was not pleased with the end result, and as a safeguard against forgery, ordered that all correspondence bearing the stamps be autographed by a post office clerk – known initials are “E.T.E.D.” for Dalton, “E.D.W” for Wight, “W.H.L.” for Lortimer and “C.A.W.”for Watson).

The one surviving example of the 1c magenta was initialed E.D.W. – a clerk E.D. Wight.

British Guiana, being such a remote, thinly populated colony, surrounded by foreign-speaking colonies with which it had little contact, was not a place familiar to stamp collectors of the day. These emergency issues went unreported in the philatelic world and were uncatalogued by dealers of the day.


1873, The 1c magenta was discovered by a 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy, Vernon Vaughan, living with his family in the Guyanese town of Demerara, amongst his uncle’s letters. It was in poor condition, ink-smudged and slightly damaged and bore the initials “E.D.W”. He soaked out the stamp and kept it in his album with his other stamps. There was no record of it in his stamp catalogue, so he sold it some weeks later for a few shillings (a large sum for a schoolboy at that time) to a local collector/dealer, N. R. McKinnon so that he could purchase foreign stamps.

1878, McKinnon sold his entire collection to his friend Wylie Hill who lived in Glasgow, Scotland. A London stamp dealer, Edward Pemberton, studied the collection and identified the one-cent Black on Magenta as a rare stamp.  McKinnon sold his stamp collection to a dealer in Liverpool, Thomas Ridpath.

1878, Thomas Ridpath broke down McKinnon’s collection and sold the 1c to Count Philippe la Renotiere von Ferrary, one of the greatest stamp collectors in history for about £150. Ferrary was one of the wealthiest men in Europe, but mostly dressed like a hobo, never married, and did not drink, smoke or party or have friends. He was obsessed with stamps, and had a mansion full – including many of the world’s rarities! He never sold a stamp, and showed them to almost no-one.

1917, Following Ferrary’s death, his massive stamp collection was willed to the Postmuseum in Berlin

1918, France confiscated the contents of the Postmuseum in Berlin as WW1 war reparations

1922, Arthur Hind bought it during a series of fourteen auctions in 1922 for over US$36,000 (reportedly outbidding three kings, including Britain’s King George V); on 6 April 1922, sale 3, lot 295, the stamp sold for 300,000 franc + 17½% tax (@48 frs to £1 = £7,343).

1935, Harmer Rooke & Co auction 2704, lot 26, where a bid of £7,500 was received from Percival Loines Pemberton. However the lot was withdrawn and returned to Mrs Scala (formerly Mrs Hind).

1940, Mrs Scala offered it for private sale through the philately department of Macy’s department store in New York City. It was purchased for $40,000 by Fred “Poss” Small, an Australian-born engineer from Florida, who had wanted to own the stamp since he first heard about it as a boy. In acquiring it, Small completed a full set of stamps from British Guiana.

1970, Small auctioned his entire stamp collection (estimated to be worth $750,000), and the 1c stamp was acquired by a syndicate of Pennsylvanian investors, headed by Irwin Weinberg, who paid $280,000 for it and spent much of the decade exhibiting it in a worldwide tour.

1980, at Robert. A. Siegel auctions in New York by John E. duPont, for $US935,000

1986, The 1c magenta stamp served as the centrepiece for duPont’s British Guiana exhibit that won the Grand Prix International at “Ameripex 1986” in Chicago. Du Pont was a great-great-grandson of E.I. du Pont, who in 1802 founded the chemical firm that bears his name and created one of America’s largest family fortunes.

1996, An eccentric multi-millionaire, du Pont was sensationally convicted of the 1996 slaying of Olympic wrestler David Schultz and sentenced in 1997 to 40 year’s incarceration for murder. The murder occurred whilst du Pont was legally deemed to be mentally ill and, aged 72, he died in custody in a prison for the mentally ill in Philadelphia in 2010.

2014, The stamp, alongwith other treasures is believed to have been locked in a bank vault while its owner was in prison and is now scheduled to be sold at auction in New York on 17th June 2014. Sotheby’s report that experts from the Royal Philatelic Society London (RPSL) have re-authenticated the stamp, the only one of its kind known to exist estimates the sale price could reach $20 million.
David Redden, Sotheby’s vice-chairman and director of special projects said “it is one inch by one and a quarter inches, it’s tiny and when it sells it will be the most valuable object by weight and size ever sold.”

Chris Harman, chairman of the Philatelic Society’s expert committee, said the stamp printed in what is now called the Republic of Guyana was without peer.

Controversies surrounding the 1c magenta

At one point, it was suggested that the 1c stamp was merely a “doctored” copy of the magenta 4c stamp of the 1856 series, a stamp very similar to the 1c stamp in appearance. These claims were disproven.

In the 1920s a rumour developed that a second copy of the stamp had been discovered, and that the then owner of the stamp, Arthur Hind, had quietly purchased this second copy and destroyed it. The rumour has not been substantiated.

In 1999, a second 1c stamp was claimed to have been discovered in Bremen, Germany. The stamp was owned by Peter Winter, who is widely known for producing many forgeries of classic philatelic items, printed as facsimiles on modern paper. Nevertheless, two European experts, Rolf Roeder and David Feldman, have said Winter’s stamp is genuine. The stamp was twice examined and found to be a fake by the Royal Philatelic Society London. In their opinion, this specimen in fact was an altered 4c magenta stamp.

Popular culture and the 1c magenta

The Guyana 1c was used as a plot device in the 1941 film, “The Saint in Palm Springs.” In the film its value was stated to be $65,000.

The stamp was sought after in the 1952 Carl Barks comic “The Gilded Man”, in which Donald Duck, the philatelist, said it was “worth more than fifty thousand dollars!”

The stamp was mentioned in John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series “The Scarlet Ruse” (1972) as being worth $325,000.
In 1973, there was a “The Streets of San Francisco” (Season 2, Episode 6 nana) entitled “The Stamp of Death” (18 Oct. 1973)

Stamps on Stamps

In February 1967 the newly independent state of Guyana issued a stamp with a picture of its most famous stamp, the British Guiana 1c magenta.  This is probably the closest any of us will ever get to acquiring one.


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5 thoughts on “Rare Stamps: British Guiana stamp (found by a schoolboy) sells for US $9.5 million

  1. Pingback: Marketing philately is different | The Collectors' Shop, Blackrock

  2. The one cent magenta from British Guyana, sold for $US 9.5 million in New York, setting a new world record.

    Bidding for the tiny specimen of British colonial memorabilia began at $US 4.5m.

    It took just two minutes to sell the stamp, to an anonymous bidder on the phone, albeit at a price below the auctioneer Sotheby’s estimate of $US 10-20 million.

    David Redden, Sotheby’s director of special projects, told a packed room in New York “With the premium, the stamp has just sold for approximately $US9.5m, which means it has set a new world record price for a stamp.’’ The previous auction record for a single stamp was $US2.2m, set by the Treskilling Yellow in 1996.

  3. Pingback: Are stamps still a good investment ??? | The Collectors' Shop, Blackrock

  4. What if I have one of the stamps you called a stamp on a stamp, I’m not sure I’ve got a lot that I need to find out about

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