Stamps Around the Globe

British Guiana One-Cent Magenta

Stamp Deconstruction

Obverse

1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta obverse photograph using an infrared filter
1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta photograph using an infrared filter [Photo Credit: Smithsonian's National Postal Museum]
Above: 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta photograph using an infrared filter
[Photo Credit: Smithsonian's National Postal Museum]

This photograph of the 1856 One-Cent Magenta was taken using an infrared filter. This suppresses the stamp’s red surface, making the black printing more visible.

Damus Petimus Que Vicissim: British Guiana’s motto, derived from the Roman poet Horace. It means, “We give and we ask in return.”

Initials E.D.W.: Because the stamp could be replicated by anyone with access to printer’s type and a press, postal clerk Edmond D. Wight’s handwritten initials deterred counterfeiters.

Vignette: Shows a barque, a three-masted sailing ship common in the nineteenth century. Not meant to represent any particular ship, this illustration would have been available in many print shops.

Surface-colored paper: Created by adding a thin layer of color on top of a sheet of white paper. This method of coloring paper was cheap, but also prone to smudging.

Postmark: Dated April 4, 1856, it reads Demerara, but that is a county name. The stamp was printed, sold, and used at Georgetown, the colonial capital.

Corners: No one knows why the one-cent stamp’s rectangular corners were clipped. The four-cent exists in both clipped and intact examples.

Inscriptions: The stamp’s text reads British|Guiana.|Postage|One Cent. The Guianese dollar, consisting of one hundred cents, became the currency in 1839. One-cent stamps were for mailing newspapers; four-cent stamps were for letters. This may explain the one-cent stamp’s rarity; letters were more likely to be saved than newspapers.

Reverse

Multiple markings on the reverse of the stamp testify to its provenance, or ownership history. They are listed here in the order they were applied:

1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta (reverse)
1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta (reverse)
Above: 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta (reverse)
[Photo Credit: Smithsonian's National Postal Museum]

Circled trefoil (two strikes, one of them incomplete): Count Philipp von Ferrary

1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta obverse photograph using an infrared filter [Photo Credit: Smithsonian's National Postal Museum]
1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta photograph using an infrared filter
Above: 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta photograph using an infrared filter
[Photo Credit: Smithsonian's National Postal Museum]

Infrared photographs taken at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in 2014 revealed a four-leaf clover beneath the seventeen-point star.

Four-leaf clover and AH: Arthur Hind

Seventeen-point star: Applied by Ann Hind to obscure her husband’s mark.

Comet: Frederick T. Small

Pencil initials FK: Finbar Kenny, manager of Macy’s stamp department, brokered the stamp’s sale to Frederick T. Small.

Pencil initials IW: Irwin Weinberg and Associates

Handwritten J.E.d.P.: John Eleuthère du Pont

 

Magenta Deconstruction Timeline Press