The 14th Maynard Sundman Lecture

September 21, 2017

James Barron: The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World

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Good afternoon everybody.

I hate to break up the party and the conversation, but I won't. No.

Good afternoon.

Thank you very much for coming here to the National Postal Museum for for the lecture this afternoon.

I just really want to introduce myself because I'm probably a new face.


I am the new director of the National Postal Museum.

My name is Elliott Gruber and I'm about two weeks old.

So I now know how to get to this room.

That's good. You're laughing.

No, no, no.

We have an incredible team here.

I've had time over the last two weeks to really meet all the staff at the National Postal Museum, catch their energy, their enthusiasm for a direction of how we take the museum to the next level.

How do we make a greater impact?


How do we not only attract more philatelist to the museum and us around the country and around the world?

But also, how do we broaden our audience to those that may not know much about stamp collecting?

And so I think we have a lot of opportunity.

This also comes at a time for the Smithsonian has initiative called One Smithsonian.

So many of you know that we are one of 19 museums as part of the Smithsonian Institution.

And how do we integrate better the National Postal Museum within the Smithsonian family.


So we're now talking about that as well on the team here at the National Postal Museum.

And some of you may know, because I just found this out recently, is our 25th anniversary of the National Postal Museum is July 30th of next year.

So mark that on your calendar.

We're gonna have some fun and interesting, exciting events, activities that we're now in the midst of planning.

And we hope to have that not just the July 30th weekend which actually, it probably starts July 28th or 29th, but actually for the entire year.


So stay tuned for some announcements related to that.

And what I also want to say which is really a passion of mine is that this is a partnership.

This is a partnership not just with the staff, with you as our members, or donors, or friends, but this as you know, the way we're going to get stronger as an institution, the way we're going to make a greater impact is by working with each and every one of you in this room and others around the world.

Because there's so much opportunity to, you know, we can tell any story in American history.


How do we start choosing?

We need your advice to say how do we start choosing some of those stories we want to tell that we think are going to be extremely impactful?

So I don't want to carry on because you did not come here for me.

I do have a confession.

I am not a stamp collector though I did collect stamps as a kid.

The reporter from Linz asked me if I was stamp collector and I said yeah, but that was a long, long time ago, please don't say I'm a stamp collector.


And of course what is he do in his article?

Elliot collects stamps.

Oh I still have them.

Most of them are related to Israel because I lived as a as a child for two years in Israel.

And so that's some time ago, the late 60s.

So I need to learn a lot about the industry.

I need to learn a lot about the stamp collecting movement and how we can not only stop it from shrinking but start it to grow.

And so those are some of the aspirations that we have as an institution here.


And my goal is not to be known as the best postal museum in the world but one of the best museums in the world.

And so those are some of the tall lofty goals I've set for our team.

And I think it's an exciting goal to have.

[Unintelligible question or comment from the audience.]

It's a pleasure to meet you and oh, oh, you have more than just one.


Well, I want to give a very brief introduction to a man who probably needs no introduction, Don Sundman who is the president of Mystic Stamp Company.

He has been a longtime member of our Council of Philatelists which is extremely important group for us.

He is also the Chair of the Council of Philatelist now and I look forward to really working with Don very closely.

Obviously this lecture is named in honor of his father Maynard Sundman.

And so we really appreciate Don's support of the museum, of this lecture.

And with no further ado, Don.



So thanks for coming. I'm Don Sundman as Elliott said.

And my brother and I sponsored this lecture to honor our father.

My father would have been born about a hundred and two years ago in October coming up.

And he passed away ten years ago, and he really loved stamps.

He started collecting as a little kid.

His father thought it was a waste of time and I told him to stop.


And my dad said, I just want one stamp from each country.

And that seemed like a reasonable goal to my grandfather.

And so he allowed my father to continue.

And then my dad became a dealer, a stamp dealer, and shut down his business through World War II.

After the war he and my mother restarted in New Hampshire.

And my brother Dave and I grew up in the business.

And in the 1970s my father bought Mystic Stamp Company in Camden, New York.

And I moved there at 19 to run that business.


And so we, my brother Dave and I, really have taken on my father's goal in life which was to bring the fun of collecting to as many people as possible.

And so my dad, in Stamps in the 1950s, had ads selling, Hitler had stamps from Europe after World War II that reached 500,000 people. He drained the worldwide supply.

So he was so excited about reaching new collectors and existing collectors.


And he created these two companies that have done that and continue to do that.

So I'm happy that you're here.

And I have a couple minutes to say nice things about my dad.

He loved the museum.

My father came here and visited before he passed away and was very impressed.

And so thank you for your time today.

I want to introduce Daniel who is the curator here at the National Postal Museum.



Thank you, Don, and thanks once again for sponsoring this lecture series you and your and your brother David every year and helping us bring so many great speakers and cover so many wonderful topics in this lecture series here at the National Postal Museum.

Just a couple of housekeeping little things, if you have cell phones please turn them off.

This lecture will at some point in the future be available online so if you are taking notes or you want to hear part of it again you will be able to catch it online at a later date.


When you came in everybody would have gotten a program and a little envelope.

In the envelope you'll find the sheet of stamps that belongs in the space here at the bottom of your program and a couple of hinges so that you can fix it into the program as a souvenir.

But you'll also find a little raffle ticket and that's because

Don has very kindly provided several dozen copies of today's book, The One-cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World.


And after the lecture we will have a board outside.

We've already randomly sort of pre-drawn the numbers but hold on to those raffle tickets.

Check it on the board before you leave and if your number matches one of the raffle tickets that's pinned to the board you want a free copy of the book.

That thanks to Don Sundman.

This seemed such an appropriate subject for us to cover here at the National Postal Museum in the Sundman lecture series this year.

Because of course the most valuable stamp in the world is here on display at the National Postal Museum for a few more months anyway.


And it has been a distinct honor really and a very interesting experience for the National Postal Museum to host what has been the longest ever exhibition open to the public of this of this stamp which does have a history of being somewhat elusive and disappearing for long periods of time.

When the stamp, just a personal little story, when the stamp first arrived here to go on display and we were sitting with it with its current owner in the conference room and looking at it and it was passed to me to look at, you know, the stamp had not been seen in public in my lifetime since I was born.


And so, this is a stamp that has a tendency to disappear for decades at a time.


And so we're so fortunate to have it on public view and be able to discuss it and talk about a little bit with the author of today's book whose delved into its curious and and sometimes hard to believe history.


James Barron was born here in Washington, DC so in some ways he comes back to his roots.

Although since 1977 he has been a columnist for The New York Times.

And I think lived in New York that whole time?

Mostly, the whole time.

In his long career at the Times he wrote for virtually every section of the newspaper and is still writing for every section of the newspaper including the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Northeast blackout of 2003, Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.


So I will leave it to James Barron, today's speaker, to tell you how he went from these subjects of national and and global current importance to the somewhat more arcane and obscure topic of the one-cent magenta of 1856.

Please welcome James Barron.



Thank you very much Dan.

I'm honored almost beyond words to have been asked to give the Sundman Lecture this year.

I can think of any number of reasons why we'd all probably think the National Postal Museum is a special place.

In my case one of those reasons is personal.

This is where I first saw the one-cent magenta.


This was back in 2014 before it was auctioned off.

It had ridden down on the Acela.

It had written down on the Acela with the man with the briefcase, that man on the left is clutching.

More about the two people in that slide in a moment.

Three of the Sundman lecturers played important roles in the book I wrote.


They're characters in the narrative, if you think of a non-fiction book as having characters, but they were also guides pointing the way as I figured things out and for their help I'm grateful.

One of them was Michael Sefi who was here in 2004.

I'm absolutely certain that he's cheering on his beloved St. Louis Cardinals right now.

This may not be the happiest September, unless there's a near miracle, it's not going to end like 2006 or 2011 when the Cards won the World Series.


Another character in the book was David Redden who presided at the auction of the one-cent magenta in 2014.

Thanks to him and thanks to Michael Sefi I got into two vaults that are pretty much off-limits.

David Redden led the way into the gold vault at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York.


There's probably more gold in that vault than anywhere except Fort Knox.

Sorry friends but he went there for a coin.

The coin he went there to pick up was that one, a $10 Double Eagle from 1933 that was not destroyed when FDR took the country off the gold standard.

The Fed was storing it for its owner and off we went.

More about FDR in a minute.

The Philatelist in Chief will not be forgotten here.


The coin was in a little cage behind a bright blue door only a step or two away from billions of dollars worth of gold bullion.

So the trip took us 80 feet below street level and the entrance that we saw a moment ago with those big wheels that they turn, that's a 90-ton steel cylinder.

Now Michael Sefi works a matter of feet from another vault the one that houses the Queen's stamp collection.


It's in London so I should probably think in terms of the metric system and say he works a couple of meters from that vault.

The guard was very nice and as you can see he was very heavily armed.

Every stamp from the days when the Sun never set on the British Empire is in that vault except one.

And of course that one is the One-cent Magenta.


What I wrote is a general interest book that tells the story of that one stamp and it's nine owners or ten if you count the French government which claimed it for four years after World War I.

Now I have a script up here it's mainly to keep me from wandering off on tangents and getting out of sync with the slides.

But I want to put a part of the sentence I just said up there.

Actually only the first few words because I think they're important to all of us in this room.


To me as the author of that book and you as stamp people who are concerned about where philately is going and, or maybe who should be concerned about where it's going.

That phrase is important because a general interest book can reach new people, people who haven't thought much about stamps.

Maybe they'll see that stamps aren't esoteric or stodgy or passe.


Maybe what they'll see is stamps are a lot more, there's history, there's mystery, which makes the story interesting.

And they're larger takeaways from stamps.

Stamps tied the world together. Stamps gave each part of the world an identity.

The One-cent Magenta made British Guiana famous for something other than sugar or later on Jonestown.

Stamps were like an early Internet, something everyone was familiar with.


And stamps provided immeasurable benefit to the world by fostering and facilitating communication by making communication possible in ways communication had not been possible before.

But you know all of that.

Some of you were probably at the auction when the One-cent Magenta was sold in 2014.

I'm sure some of you attended the World Stamp Show last year where the One-cent Magenta put in an appearance.

So speaking here is like carrying coals to Newcastle.


That's an expression that goes way back according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

It has that long list of citations there showing when that phrase started working its way into the English language.

I think we can trust the OED because its first editor was not only a philologist, a lover of words, he was a philatelist which stems from a Greek word meaning lover of taxes.


Dare I say that in Washington?

But really, tax receipts.

The entry for philatelist appears after philargyry, a love of money, and before philautia, a love of oneself.

There's no single word I know for lover of newspapers.

But I was one of those people who always wanted to work for one so perhaps it's inevitable that I'd see parallels between newspapers and stamps.


Both evolved in the 19th century and what they were for most of the 20th and now they're soldiering on into the 21st century.

The Industrial Revolution transformed printing in speed and consistency.

It mechanized what had largely been an art.

And that increased the appetite for materials that were printed.

It also created an appetite or an expectation that everyday things like newspapers would somehow be delivered by harnessing power in other new ways, railroads for example.


Coincidentally, considering my background, the widely accepted thinking about the One-cent Magenta is, it was a stamp for a newspaper.

I say widely accepted thinking because there's really no way to know for sure what it was used for.

But the postage for newspapers in British Guiana was one cent in those days and the postage for letters was four cents.


So the assumption is the stamp was affixed to a newspaper not like that with Photoshop but the real way.

So it's somehow appropriate for someone who spent a career writing for newspapers to wander into stamp world at this moment in the 21st century.

It gave me a vantage point on newspapers, on stamps, and on the future, and their parallels if only because newspapers and stamps persist in the digital world.


Conventional newspaper circulation is down although there's been tremendous growth in digital numbers.

Conventional mail for many people has been replaced by email, or by instant messaging, or posts on Facebook, or some combination.

And look at how closely the declines seem to mirror each other.

This may just be proving anything by statistics but since 2007 total mail volume has dropped 27%.


First class volume is down 54%.

One culprit is electronic bill paying.

When you opt in for that 24 pieces of first-class mail don't get sent.

The bills the credit card company would would have sent you, the envelope would the check you'd have sent back, that's 24 right there.

If you're late and they send you a Dunning Notice that's even more mail.

Of course there's a bright side to the Internet.


It made possible online retailing for giants like Amazon and eBay and in the last ten years package volume is surged 57% for the Postal Service.

The 21st century is nearly 1/5 gone now and I think the distinguishing change is the digital tools that are now available.

Philatelist can use spectrometers for rigorous scientific analysis as they look at the patient.


Here at the Postal Museum and at the Royal Philatelic Society in London they have pretty much the same equipment.

The findings could make some collectors unhappy when they pull out stamps that were expertised years ago and the technology overturns the verdicts of the past.

But it's essential for maintaining the integrity of expertising and making certain that a given stamp really is what everyone thinks it is.


And that's the thing about the One-cent Magenta, it got to be what it is on the say-so of stamp world pioneers.

If Edward Denny Bacon and E.L. Pemberton hadn't endorsed it would we be here right now?

Would the One-cent Magenta have sold for more money than any other stamp?

Would it be the world's most expensive object by size and weight?

The changes in technology have strengthened the perception, I think, that stamp collecting is quaint.


I would counter that by saying stamp collecting is about preserving history.

Not every stamp conveyed a letter from Abraham Lincoln to his son's teacher on the first day of school.

But every stamp conveys facts that are important.

For British Guiana, postal history shows the aspirations, the desire, the determination to be tied into the world.

For the United States postal history can show the same thing.


It showed what the nation was becoming as it pushed westward in the 19th century.

You can look at the images on stamps and trace the political situation almost decade by decade.

You can look at postage rates and do the same thing.

The point here is stamps tell something about cultural history.

And in terms of cultural history, trophy price stamps like the One-cent Magenta can too easily obscure an important fact of history.


Stamps exist because of the printing press.

Movable-type originated in China but if it weren't for Gutenberg and a machine that made possible a delineated, differentiated, specialized production process of what would later become known as an assembly line, there wouldn't have been a One-cent Magenta or a book about it.

Now in that book I referred affectionately to what I called Stamp World.


I came up with that term before I discovered a wonderful book by a British journalist called The Error World.

It's about why he found it was easier to tell his wife about his fling with another woman than it was to tell her about his thing for stamps.

Stamp World is centered on details.

It can seem as if stamps are accumulations of errors or flaws.


That's one way of looking at things.

But it's like not seeing the forest for the trees.

What stamp collecting can do is preserve what stamps represent which is history and that's what the book I wrote tries to do.

It tells what the One-cent Magenta represents which as I say is history.

And I know I succeeded when people say they have no interest in stamps, when they read it, and then they come back and say they had no idea stamps were so interesting.


Where that leaves newspapers and stamps is trying to prove their relevance.

So imagine what it's like to be a newspaper guy trying to promote a book about a stamp.

Such a person is bucking the headwinds you probably know only too well.

But it is possible to get people's attention.

Last month I went to a book fair on Long Island.

This is an annual midsummer event in that town with a large tent and lots of big-name authors.


In a couple of hours I sold 34 copies of the one-cent magenta.

Now of those 34, six went to stamp people.

One of them was a former governor of New York.

It turns out he was something of a stamp collector when he was young and his brother still is quite serious about it.

So, he bought two.

I sold the other 26 by engaging people, by chatting them up, what MBA types would call audience engagement.


It took me 10 or 15 minutes to figure out how to do this.

People would walk by they look at the big poster which was essentially a blow-up of the cover of the book.

They'd register that it was about a stamp and their eyes would glaze over.

I didn't think it was that funny.

And the third or fourth time it happened the person whose eyes had just glazed over was a woman.


So I said, "how many Stuart Weitzman's shoes do you have?"

Well that got her attention.

And I used the Stuart Weitzman line again and again as the day went on.

They'd say one or two or a whole closet full.

And I'd say well you helped buy that stamp.

And then they'd buy the book.

I also tried asking if they'd seen the movie Foxcatcher.

That worked a few times too.


The point is stamps are about stories and people go for stories about stamps just as they go for good stories and newspapers.

As I've said stamps are about history and people love history.

So let's tell some stories.

We could start with any of the people who owned the one-cent magenta.

But let's start with Arthur Hind.

He was an upholstery manufacturer originally from England, transplanted to upstate New York.

And some would say he had wife trouble.


She deprived him of his final wish which was to deprive her of the One-cent Magenta.

He bought it in 1922 at one of the Ferrari sales for the record-breaking price at the time of $32,500.

There he is with Charles Phillips who owned Stanley Gibbons and Gustav Mosler who was a stamp collector as well as the grandson of the Mosler who founded the Bank Vault Company in Cincinnati.


So now we have three vaults in one talk.

Hind loved the recognition that came with owning the one-cent magenta but don't you think he looks like Daddy Warbucks?


Kind of downmarket maybe but look at this, one leg of his trousers is noticeably shorter than the other.

This was one of Hinds trademarks.

If he had his pants made that way because he could.

He never really said why.


Now Daddy Warbucks, according to no less an authority than Little Orphan Annie had 10 zillion dollars.

Arthur Hind according to no less an authority than hind himself, had a pile of cash at least 7 million, and he bought thousands and thousands of stamps, so many he couldn't keep track of them all.

That was before the Depression knocked his net worth down to a mere million or so.

A careful inventory of his stamp holdings ran to hundreds of pages.


It was as thick as the telephone book as telephone books used to be.

I know this because I paid a lawyer in Utica to copy it at the courthouse because that inventory was filed with his will when he died.

Now you have to wonder about Utica where Hind lived.

The newspapers up there didn't exactly tell it like it was.

When the stock market crashed, it made headlines in Illinois, on the Great White Way, and in La La Land thanks to Variety.


Even the New York Times which can be rather wordy especially on days when I go to the office, said the stock market collapsed.

Not the newspapers in Utica.

An economic disaster was a sales record, and the sun will come out tomorrow.

After Hind died a monument salesman stopped by to sell Hind's widow a headstone for Hind's grave.

The monument salesman made more than a sale.


And before long they got married, although it was they kept it a secret while she was staking her claim to the one cent magenta.

Well she got it, and she got it because Hind had been somewhat disorganized.

There must have been some friction in the last two or three years before Hind's death because he'd had his will rewritten to say she was only to inherit their house and also their two cars and the contents of the house.


Hind died thinking he'd sent the One-cent Magenta down to the bank where he had moved the rest of his stamp collection.

But no, it came back to the house after some stamp show and somehow Hind never got it back to the bank.

So the probate judge said she could have the stamp, a little magenta meal ticket, if you want to think of it that way.

By the way, Mrs. Hind's marriage to the monument salesman had some rough moments too.

The court records don't explain exactly what happened but things must have been pretty bad because after a couple of years they divorced.


And the judge on the case said the monument salesman, now Mrs. Hind's ex, could not marry anyone else without first going back to court and getting permission from the judge himself.

These days people are famous for being famous.

Arthur Hind was famous for buying stamps and he made himself even more famous passing out little cards that carried a reproduction of the one-cent magenta.

And the year after he bought it, he gave a talk at the Collectors Club in New York.

Now as it happens, one of the people who was there that night figured in my first book that was about watching Steinway & Sons build one piano from start to finish at their Factory out by LaGuardia Airport in New York.

From 1927 to 1955, Steinway & Sons was run by a world-class stamp collector.


Theodore II Steinway was a grandson of one of the sons in Steinway & Sons.

He was so well thought of in Stamp World that when tiny little Lichtenstein issued a series of stamps commemorating important philatelists, he was one of them.

Among other things, he collected Bullseye stamps, socked on the nose the postmarks hit the exact center.


And as you might expect he also specialized in stamps that had to do with pianos and pianists.

There's one from Theodore E. Steinway's collection, signed by the great polish pianist Ignites Paderewski.

Steinway specialized in New South Wales but he also collected stamps from German states, especially Hamburg where Steinway has had a factory since the 1870s.

The company started in New York after the family came over but one of the sons didn't like it here.


He thought American concert goers were uncouth.

So he went back to Germany and opened a workshop in Hamburg and that's what eventually became a factory.

Maybe it's no surprise that Steinway & Sons referred to postage in one of its ads.

This was in 1936.

I do wonder if this was the ad agency playing up to the boss.

That ad says that if Steinway mailed you a piano the postage would be $216.98.


It also said they figured out that delivering it themselves was cheaper at least in the New York area.

Well it's certainly true that people have mailed pianos.

Members of Parliament did it in Britain in the 19th century.

But the idea of mailing a brand new piano reminded me of the man who mailed himself.

W. Reginald Bray did it not once but at twice, at least that we know of, and that time it took two postman to deliver him.


Before that, when he was younger, he splurged and sent himself home by registered mail.

A bicycle messenger was assigned to deliver him.

It wasn't far.

The messenger exacted revenge.

He walked to Bray's home after putting Bray on the bike and telling him, "start pedaling."

That's Bray's father there signing the receipt and taking delivery because of course there had to be a signature and a receipt.

The year after Steinway ran the ad we saw a moment ago, about mailing a piano, or not, Theodore E Steinway tackled a project to build a piano that was definitely not mailed.


The project was to build a piano for the White House replacing that one which was by then more than 30 years old.

But first the president of Steinway had to get the design approved by no less than the President of the United States.

So, Theodore E. and his son John went off to see FDR.

They packed two big suitcases containing scale models of possible pianos.


The President chose one and then he and Steinway talked about what they really wanted to talk about, which was stamps.

Because in those days the US had a Philatelist in Chief.

As you know FDR was a passionate stamp collector.

He sketched out designs for stamps and sent them to the Postmaster General.

Some of those sketches are upstairs here.

And when he went to the big conferences in World War II to Potsdam or to Yalta, sometimes the heaviest item in his luggage was his stamp album.


Well the Steinways went back to the factory and built the new White House piano.

It's some piano. They even got it patented.

That's the patent diagram.

The legs look like eagles and there's real gold leaf on them.

And they delivered it to the White House in 1938.

Theodore E. Steinway spoke at a ceremony there and he said they were grateful as immigrants who'd been welcomed in the US and allowed to do what they did.


Theodore E. Steinway also figured in two moments in the One-cent Magenta book.

One was in 1947 when he was the chairman of the World Stamp Show held in New York.

It celebrated a hundred years of stamps in the United States and it was held at Grand Central Palace.

That was an exhibition hall near Grand Central Terminal that was the place for shows, auto shows, airplane shows, flower shows, they had all been there.


The One-cent Magenta was there for CIPEX, except when it wasn't.

The newspapers said the One-cent Magenta had its own policeman assigned to guard just that one stamp, nothing else.

I wouldn't have wanted to be that cop because the One-cent Magenta disappeared.

One day during the show, someone noticed it wasn't in its special case.

Well the police issued all-points bulletins and started investigating which Stamp World Houdini had made off with it.


Turned out nobody had stolen it, it had simply slipped from its mooring in the case and gone on a short little trip drifting for a moment before coming to rest at the bottom of the case.

The other moment about Theodore II Steinway and the One-cent Magenta takes us back to Arthur Hind.

This was the night in 1923 when Hind and appeared at the Collectors Club.


The event broke their attendance records but I wouldn't exactly call it a talk because Hind said not one word.

He was introduced after a fine dinner but his lips were sealed.

You can't make this up unless you think I'm trying.

There's what the Collectors Club's own Journal said.

Apparently our hard-headed industrialist was intimidated.

Talking to you, I know that feeling.

Hind let his stamps do the talking.

He took along three albums.


He did not take along the One-cent Magenta.

He did show the Boscawen five-cent blue of 1846.

Like the One-cent Magenta, it's unique. There's only one.

And as with the One-cent Magenta, Hind had bought it at one of the Ferrari sales in Paris.

It was in fact at the same sale at which he bought the One-cent Magenta.

The price was just over $11,000 which is a little over a $158,000 now.


Hind was infamous for the way he put his stamps in his albums.

The way he attached them.

Some he glued, some he affixed with little bandages, and as you can see, he taped the Boscawen cover there on the left and the right.

A serious student of philately would have known better than to risk damage to the stamps.

But according to the London Philatelist, that wasn't Arthur Hind.


The Collectors Club magazine summed up Hind's presentation. They didn't think much of it either.

But they said so diplomatically.

Well we don't know what Hind knew about the One-cent Magenta, about how it was made, how it was printed, or who cut the corners off.

He didn't leave a diary or much of a written record.

So we don't know if he knew that the One-cent Magenta was not supposed to be so special.


If he wasn't a serious student of philately he probably didn't.

He knew it was unique and that was good enough for him.

What the One-cent Magenta was in the beginning was an improvisation.

It was a quick and dirty solution in a 19th century British colony that usually sold stamps printed in London.


But in late 1855 the postmaster in British Guiana was worried his supply was running low. So he had provisional stamps printed there in British Guiana.

Somebody clipped off the corners.

One of the enduring mysteries is we don't know who did that.

And in the 1990s the editor of the American Philatelist called it the ugliest stamp he'd ever seen.

Unlike the famous Inverted Jenny, the One-cent Magenta is not just rare it's unique.


The Jenny was mistakenly printed upside down but there are a hundred of them.

There's only one One-cent Magenta.

For most of its life it was safely out of sight, locked in a bank vault or on a shelf in a palace in Europe.

The owners had their pet names for the One-cent Magenta.

One referred to it as Magenta Lady.

That was the previous owner, John II DuPont, who besides being an heir to the DuPont chemical fortune was a collectors' collector.


Long before he bought the One-cent Magenta he amassed sixty million shells, and two million birds, enough to start a museum which he did in Delaware.

He also owned thousands of stamps and he had a huge library in his mansion in Pennsylvania that he used as his workroom.

Even for him the One-cent Magenta was special.

Once when he went to a stamp show and got back kind of late and the night clerk in the hotel couldn't open the safe he slept with the One-cent Magenta under his pillow.


Intriguing as they were those details about DuPont were largely forgotten when he died in 2010.

Most of the obituaries about him began by saying he'd shot an Olympic gold medal wrestler who lived and trained on his estate in Pennsylvania.

DuPont had been convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 30 years in prison.


The obituaries did not say that two hours before the shooting he was in a stamp store shopping.

I talked to the person who waited on him who assumed when he heard later on the radio that there'd been trouble at DuPont's estate he assumed DuPont was the victim not the gunman.

Before DuPont the One-cent Magenta was owned by eight partners from Pennsylvania.

The leader was Irwin Weinberg who died last year.

He traveled with the stamp in a briefcase he handcuffed to his wrist.


Sometimes even went places in an armored car like that one.

The only problem was in Toronto the key to the handcuffs it broke off.

Weinberg was a master of stunts but not even he would have thought of one that good.

The broken key made front pages around the world, not to mention People Magazine.

There's an audience for a stamp that he would never have imagined.

Now before Weinberg the stamp was owned by Frederick Trouten Small, "Poss" Small.


And before him, the owner was Arthur Hind.

And now as I said earlier, we don't know what Hind knew about how the One-cent Magenta was made, meaning how it was printed or why it was printed.

And the reason it was printed was the supply chain in British Guiana was subject to hiccups.

If you're the postmaster and an order of a hundred thousand stamps from London doesn't arrive you get worried and you go to the local newspaper, newspapers again, and you say maybe not in these words, "help."


Well the newspaper set the type by hand.

That photo is from the South Street Seaport in New York where they have an old-fashioned print shop.

South Street even had a little image of a ship that was close enough to the one they had in British Guiana in the 1850s.

And they also have a printing press that's probably similar mechanically to the one that printed the stamp which was an old-fashioned letterpress.


The day I was there, we printed a hundred stamps.

I say "we printed" them because they let me pull the handle a couple of times.

So I thought about turning the ship upside down.

Because you have no idea when you tell people you're writing a book about the world's most expensive stamp they say,

"oh, you mean the one with the upside-down airplane?"

Well, no.


I also thought about changing one letter in the Latin motto.

That would have replicated a famous mistake on an earlier batch of Provisionals that were printed the same way in the same place.

What happened back in 1853 was the word "Petimus," which means, "we give and ask in return," was misspelled "Patmus" -- which turned it into we suffer in return.

Panama's probably expressed Postmaster Edward Thomas Evans Dalton's feelings a little bit better.


What happened to the one sent magenta for its first 16 years after it was printed, is another mystery.

It was printed sold and forgotten until a twelve-year-old boy found it among some papers in his uncle's house.

Louie Vernon Vaughan was caught up in stamp collecting which was still a new fad in those days and he didn't think much of the One-cent Magenta.

He later said it was not a particularly fine specimen.


He was sure he'd find a better one.

He wanted a batch of stamps that the dealer Alfred Smith in England had sent him on approval.

I think every stamp collector has dreamed of finding that one precious stamp someday, whatever it is, whatever you collect, there's one stamp you always want.

Little Lou Yvonne found it but he didn't realize it, so he sold that one to get some other stamps that he was sure were better.


And he sold it for six shillings which is not quite $17 now.

One philatelic writer called it, the worst deal in stamp history.

The buyer was Neil Ross McKinnon.

He kept it for a while but then through intermediaries he sold it to Ferrari, the eccentric aristocrat who assembled perhaps an unparalleled collection and who lived there in the Hôtel de Matignon in Paris.


Even though he far preferred Australia to France.

That palace is now the French Prime Minister's residence.

And it's guarded by very polite gendarme who don't really want their pictures taken, if you happen to walk by like a tourist with a camera around your neck when the gate swings open, as I did.

That was some block when Ferrari was alive.

Rodin lived at one end of the street, the composer André Jolivet lived next door, for a while Edith Wharton lived a few doors down.


We know what the Hôtel de Matignon looks like because one of the neighbors went inside and took some pictures.

That was Eugène Atget who documented Parisian architecture and street scenes in the early years of photography.

But the story everybody remembers about the One-cent Magenta came later.


It's an Arthur Hind story so let's fast forward past 1922 after Ferrari died and the French government sold the stamp and Hind bought it, and past 1933 when Hind died.

Because the story is about a long letter to the editor published five years after that in 1938 in the pages of a stamp magazine that was published in Richmond.

The letter writer said he'd been a cabin boy on a steamship that sailed to British Guiana from time to time.


He said he'd bought some old local letters from the elderly relative of a drinking buddy.

Well right there you have to wonder, "a drinking buddy" but I go on.

The sailor didn't think much about the stamps on the letters until he read about famous Arthur Hind and the famous One-cent Magenta.

And he realized he had one just like it.

So the sailor described going up to Utica and after calling Hind on the telephone, finding his way to Hind's house.


He showed his stamp to Hind and Hind reached into his safe and got out the One-cent Magenta.

Hind told the sailor he'd buy the second stamp.

Hind said he'd pay cash if he came back the next day.

Not even Arthur Hind kept that much money lying around the house.

The sailor left worrying about being mugged the next day carrying that much cash.

Well the next day came and the Sailor went back and he gave hind the stamp.


Hind gave him the money and then Hind jovially took out two cigars.

Hind smoked stogies.

Hind put his in his mouth and lit it, and then he did the one thing the sailor had not imagined.

He took the burning match and touched it to the sailor's stamp which he of course now owned, and as it burned Hind said, "now there's only one One-cent Magenta."

Well, so what if that story is too good to be true.


The image that it creates in one's mind is indelible.

David Redden told me that story when he first told me about the One-cent Magenta.


And said more or less that idea that's an unforgettable image and he's absolutely right it presented Hind as Stamp World saw him.

Collectors resented his open checkbook.

Sir John Wilson who was the keeper of the Royal Philatelic Collection for 31 years, wrote that Hind had more money than knowledge of stamps.


Other collectors griped that he bought indiscriminately.

They said he went for quantity over quality.

Hind must have known all of that.

He himself repeated a story that originated with the British clergyman who imagined the dialogue between Hind and St. Peter at the gate of heaven.

Hind arrived and Saint Peter asked have you fed the poor, or visited the sick, or relieved distress?


Hind said, no I really didn't have time but I have a One-cent Magenta British Guiana stamp in a grease-proof envelope for which I paid $32,5000.

Even the His Majesty the King of Great Britain personally congratulated me when I acquired it.

Would you like to see it?

Peter slammed the gate shut.

That wasn't the response Hind was expecting.

And on the subject of responses people didn't get, there was a night on Jeopardy in 2015 when Alex Trebek didn't get the response he was expecting.


I wish I could say this showed that the One-cent Magenta had worked its way into the national consciousness, the national conversation.

But the thing was, none of the contestants rang in and got the right answer.

They didn't hear me shouting at the TV set, which was of course Johnny DuPont whom we saw earlier.

He bought the One-cent Magenta in 1980 but at first he didn't want it known.


He sent it off to one stamp show and listed the owner's name as Rae Maeder which was an anagram of Demerara, the province along the the coast in British Guiana where the stamp was printed.

DuPont had a thing with guns and as his descent into mental illness accelerated in the 1990s, he fired one at the ceiling while changing a light bulb.

He also believed his estate was filled with mechanical trees and he was convinced the trees moved around on electronic commands from remote controllers that he couldn't see, neither could anyone else.


DuPont could just as easily appear normal though, even charming.

There was no telling which he would be, the sane DuPont or the insane DuPont.

Shopping at that stamp store, DuPont couldn't have been more normal.

That was on a Friday. DuPont told the person who he was dealing with there he'd be back on Monday to pick up yet another stamp album.

He shot Dave Schultz about two hours later.

DuPont never saw the One-cent Magenta again except perhaps on television while he was in prison.

A cable TV program did a segment on DuPont and the stamp and for a few days DuPont's cell block buzzed about the famous prisoner with the famous stamp.

DuPont's lawyer told me DuPont enjoyed the attention.


The film Foxcatcher was less flattering.

It's mostly about DuPont's fascination with athletics and his deranged behavior and of course the murder.

There's only one scene that mentioned stamps and that scene is problematic.

The problem is not with the cocaine in that scene or the helicopter which is also in that scene.

DuPont was trying to get Dave Schultz's brother Mark to rehearse a speech DuPont has written for the event they're flying off to.


Schultz is supposed to introduce DuPont when they get there.

The speech calls for Schultz to run through DuPont's accomplishments according to DuPont, ornithologist, author world explorer, philatelist.

Schultz can't say the words, the last one stops him completely.

DuPont has to teach him how to say it and Steve Carell the actor who played DuPont pronounced it "philaytely" which is not how the word has been pronounced according to every dictionary since Webster's Supplement of New Words back in 1880.


It's always been pronounced with an "A" that rhymes with "cat," "philately."

So, after all that, what about that auction?

The most attention a stamp had gotten in years.

It was the One-cent Magenta's moment in the spotlight.

Literally, David Redden showed it off in that special little case and people gawked.

They marveled at how something so small could be worth so much money.


And they marveled at the white glove treatment that it got.

The bidding took only two or three minutes.

The price was nine point four eight million dollars close enough to say nine point five million, making it, as I said before, the world's most valuable object by size and weight.

Everyone left the auction wondering who the buyer was because he was not identified.

Sotheby's said he wanted to remain anonymous.


So now there was another mystery to go along with, why there's only one, and who cut the corners off.

I put out feelers trying to find out who had bought it.

And finally one day I got a call from a man who said he'd been the buyer, a man with a very deep voice, sounded to me like he could have been an announcer in the good old days of network television.

Stuart Weitzman is a collector but he's not really a stamp collector.


He did collect stamps when he was a boy, especially during one year when he was laid up with a broken leg.

But now he collects one-of-a-kind things, one such thing that he dotes on is a pair of shoes, women's shoes appropriately enough considering what he does, they were autographed by the 1941 New York Yankees.

Weitzman didn't want the One-cent Magenta hidden away in a vault.

He wanted people to see it.


And he personally didn't really want to have possession of the One-cent Magenta for too long.

Well you know what he did about that.

And for me that brought it full circle back to the place where I first saw it.

It's been a great pleasure and an honor to be here for this today. Thank you, very much.



If you don't mind, James, we have about five minutes if there are any questions from the audience.

Of course.

Sir, here in the front row.

Did you have a paper route as a kid?

No, but I can tell you about getting a summer job at the Northern Virginia Sun in Arlington, Virginia between high school and college.

And I can tell you how I started a newspaper when I was in the fourth grade.

That, that, that...


You're a very good speaker.

Thank you, very much.

What first drew your interest to the stamp?

There are some things... go ahead, let's try that again.

What first drew your interest to the stamp?

There are some things that are on a need-to-know basis.

And if you need to know that you need to read the book because the book begins with that.


You probably don't have to read past page four or five to get the answer.

The short version, but I hope you'll read the book and I hope everyone watching will read the book, is, I went to a cocktail party and there was David redden the auctioneer whom we saw before and he said that in a few weeks, well really a couple of months, he'd be auctioning the world's most expensive stamp.

And I'd written about him before. I'd written about him when he sold the Declaration of Independence, he sold one copy twice. I'd written about him when he sold a copy of the Magna Carta.

As I said there I'd written about him when he got that gold coin and took it from the vault up to the New York Historical Society where it was to be displayed.

David Redden was one of those characters in New York who always had a good story.

So when he says the world's most expensive stamp, I got almost that excited and I thought this is a story.


And one thing led to another.

I wrote a story and that led us to where we are today with a book.

The Blue you mentioned, is that also from Guiana?

Yes, probably printed at about the same time and probably for the same reason.

Is that in this building?

No, unless you have one?

Do you have one, here?

Not that I know of.


I didn't either, but it's it's your collection.

Well thank you, very much.


So, remember to check your raffle tickets that are in your envelope

on the way out to see if you won a copy of the book.

If you do not win a copy of the book, there are copies, I understand, for sale in the gift shop, and James is going to sign some copies outside, I think.


And so, thank you all very much for coming.


The museum welcomed Mr. James Barron, who published the book titled The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World. Through the stories of those who have bought, owned, and sold the One-Cent Magenta, James Barron delivered a fascinating tale of global history and immense wealth, and of the human desire to collect.

About James Barron

James Barron portrait

Born in Washington, D.C., Mr. Barron joined the New York Times in June 1977 after graduating from Princeton University, where he had been the paper’s correspondent during his junior and senior years.