1856 1¢ Magenta of British Guiana finds new collector owner after 34 years

By Charles Snee

After months of hype and anticipation, the fate of the world’s most valuable stamp was decided in a matter of minutes June 17 at the Sotheby’s auction gallery in New York City.

There, under the watchful eyes of a capacity crowd and media cameras, the iconic 1856 1¢ Magenta of British Guiana (Scott 13) was sold to an anonymous collector for just shy of $9.5 million.

When the stamp was last sold, in 1980, it fetched $935,000.

Linn’s New York correspondent Matthew Healey was there to record the historic sale in words and video.

Thanks to the efforts of Healey and Linn’s managing editor Donna Houseman, our initial report was posted on Linns.com within minutes of the fall of the auctioneer’s hammer on the podium.

Healey’s updated coverage of the sale appeared on page 1 of the July 7 issue of Linn’s.

To my knowledge, Linn’s was the first to publish online a detailed report following the sale.

Our video documenting the sale was produced June 18, the day after the sale, and is available for viewing at Linns.com.

Other media outlets picked up the story, and their reports have reminded millions of viewers and listeners of the wonders of stamp collecting.

I’ve said it before in this space, but I marvel at how quickly we can make news available to our readers via our website and through social media such as Facebook. Reporting breaking news now takes seconds or minutes, not hours or days.

The $9.5 million paid for the stamp makes it one of the world’s most valuable collectible objects by weight.

Nonetheless, the final realization fell just short of Sotheby’s presale estimate of $10 million to $20 million.

This did not surprise me because I considered the estimate to be too high.

More realistic would be for the stamp to sell close to the unannounced reserve price, which was set below the $10 million floor of the estimate.

Now that a firm price has been paid, the Scott catalog editors likely will assign a value to the unique stamp. A dash has long appeared in the used column for the listing of this stamp, meaning that it is known to exist used but not enough market data is available to establish a value.

Prior to the sale, I speculated that the stamp would be sold to someone who did not collect stamps. It pleases me to have been proven wrong on this score.

So what will happen, now that this iconic stamp has a new owner?

At this writing, next to nothing is known about the buyer, including nationality.

We do know that the stamp will be exhibited in the future.

Both the National Postal Museum and World Stamp Show-NY 2016 have extended invitations to display the stamp at their respective venues.

When Irwin Weinberg and his consortium of investors acquired the stamp in 1970, they made sure it stayed in the public eye.

They spent the next decade taking the stamp all over the world. The countries visited included Canada, Czechoslovakia, England, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain and Switzerland.

It is our fondest hope that the new owner will afford collectors and noncollectors alike the chance to see this unassuming piece of philatelic history.