Stamps Around the Globe

British Guiana One-Cent Magenta

Timeline of a Rarity

  • 1838: The British colony of Demerara in South America is joined with neighboring possessions to form British Guiana.
  • 1856: The postmaster at British Guiana’s capital, Georgetown, runs low on postage stamps and asks a local printer to prepare one-cent and four-cent stamps for provisional use until a shipment arrives from England. The One-Cent Magenta is used on April 4.
  • 1873: Twelve-year-old stamp collector Louis Vernon Vaughn discovers the One-Cent Magenta among some old papers at his uncle’s home in British Guiana. Unhappy with its appearance, he sells it for six shillings and buys a packet of prettier foreign stamps.
  • 1878: The wealthy collector Count Philipp von Ferrary purchases the stamp for a sum thought to be ₤40. It will not emerge from his vast Paris estate for nearly 40 years.
  • 1917: Ferrary dies at the age of 67. His massive stamp collection is willed to the Berlin postal museum. However, because France and Germany are at war, his stamp collections are seized a few years later by the French government as enemy property and sold to pay off German war reparations.
  • 1922: American industrialist Arthur Hind pays $32,500 for the One-Cent Magenta, making it the most valuable stamp in the world.
  • 1933: Arthur Hind dies, leaving a “dwelling, furniture, paintings but not my stamp collection” to his widow. Ann Hind sues her husband’s estate for the One-Cent Magenta, claiming he gave it to her before his death. The case is settled in her favor.
  • 1940: Ann Hind exhibits the stamp in the British Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, and shortly thereafter sells it to an anonymous buyer for $45,000.
  • 1954: LIFE pictures the One-Cent Magenta in color for the first time. Its ownership remains shrouded in mystery, and the magazine claims that even the owner’s wife does not know he possesses the stamp.
  • 1966: British Guiana achieves independence and becomes the Republic of Guyana.
  • 1970: Frederick T. Small, an Australian living in Florida, is identified as the stamp’s owner when he sells it for $280,000 to a group of investors headed by Pennsylvania stamp dealer Irwin Weinberg, who spends the next decade promoting it with theatrical flair.
  • 1980: An anonymous buyer, later revealed to be John E. du Pont, purchases the stamp for $935,000. Amateur wrestling replaces philately as du Pont’s main interest, and the stamp again disappears from public view for decades.
  • 2010: John du Pont dies in prison while serving a 13-to-30 year prison sentence for third-degree murder.
  • 2014: The stamp is sold on behalf of the du Pont estate to shoe designer and entrepreneur Stuart Weitzman, regaining its status as the world’s most valuable stamp.
  • 2015: The One-Cent Magenta returns to public view once again at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum.

Ann Hind shows the One-Cent Magenta to stamp collector Ernest Kehr and Grover Whalen, president of the New York World’s Fair.
Ann Hind (center) shows the One-Cent Magenta to stamp collector Ernest Kehr (left) and Grover Whalen, president of the New York World’s Fair. Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
Above: Ann Hind (center) shows the One-Cent Magenta to stamp collector Ernest Kehr (left) and Grover Whalen, president of the New York World’s Fair.
Photo courtesy of The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

One of the first stamps issued by newly-independent Guyana pictures the One-Cent Magenta.
One of the first stamps issued by newly-independent Guyana pictures the One-Cent Magenta.
Above: One of the first stamps issued by newly-independent Guyana pictures the One-Cent Magenta.

Irwin Weinberg steps into an armored car with a briefcase containing the One-Cent Magenta handcuffed to his wrist, Philadelphia, 1976.
Irwin Weinberg steps into an armored car with a briefcase containing the One-Cent Magenta handcuffed to his wrist, Philadelphia, 1976. Photo courtesy of Associated Press
Above: Irwin Weinberg steps into an armored car with a briefcase containing the One-Cent Magenta handcuffed to his wrist, Philadelphia, 1976.
Photo courtesy of Associated Press

The stamp is sold on behalf of the du Pont estate.
The stamp is sold on behalf of the du Pont estate.
Photo courtesy of Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images
Above: The stamp is sold on behalf of the du Pont estate.
Photo courtesy of Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

 

Comic Book

The 1952 comic book Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Gilded Man introduced a generation of young readers to the story of the One-Cent Magenta. It features Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie traveling to British Guiana in search of the elusive stamp. They find it among the treasures hoarded by El Dorado—the fabled golden man of South America—and are handsomely rewarded by a wealthy collector.

The 1952 comic book Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Gilded Man
The 1952 comic book Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Gilded Man ©1952 Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved. Loan from Stuart Weitzman.
Above: The 1952 comic book Walt Disney’s Donald Duck and the Gilded Man ©1952 Walt Disney Productions. All rights reserved. Loan from Stuart Weitzman.

 

Magenta Deconstruction Timeline Press

 

Support