Philatelists around the globe often bow to the aura surrounding the British Guiana 1c Magenta. Its fame extends beyond its vibrant color and unique design to a rich history that makes it an unparalleled object of desire among stamp collectors. Issued in 1856 in limited numbers in British Guiana, now Guyana, its extreme rarity is affirmed by the existence of just one known specimen. It holds the distinctive status of being the only major postage stamp issued in the United Kingdom or British Commonwealth that is absent from Britain’s prestigious Royal Philatelic Collection. We take a look at The British Guiana 1c Magenta and the Journey of the World’s Most Expensive Stamp.
The Stamp’s Unique Features
The British Guiana 1c Magenta is as unique in design as it is in rarity. It is an imperforate stamp, black ink printed on eye-catching magenta paper. Its design features a sailing ship embodying the maritime industry of the then colony. Emblazoned within this design is the colony’s Latin motto, “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and expect in return). Its country of issue and value are neatly rendered in small, black uppercase lettering surrounding the frame. The entire design is enclosed within a quartet of thin lines, giving the stamp a distinctly elegant look.
The Journey of the Stamp
The stamp’s journey is as intriguing as its design. The only known specimen was first purchased in 1873 by Neil McKinnon, a local collector in Guiana, who initially declined to buy it. Recognizing its rarity, Thomas Ridpath, a Liverpool dealer, purchased the stamp in 1878. Its departure from the UK that same year marked the start of an international journey, with the stamp becoming a treasured piece in the collection of the renowned French-born collector, Philipp von Ferrary, for several decades.
Following World War I, the French government seized the stamp and it was auctioned in Paris in 1922, fetching a world record sum. Since then, the stamp has spent years in American collections, displayed at prestigious exhibitions such as the 1939-40 World’s Fair and the London International Stamp Exhibition in 1923. During this exhibition, King George V reportedly declined an offer to own the coveted stamp, despite having dispatched his agent to the Paris auction.
Breaking world records appears to be a routine affair for the British Guiana 1c Magenta. It broke the world record for a single stamp auction price an astounding four times, with its 2014 sale to Stuart Weitzman for a staggering $9,480,000. This auction also crowned the stamp as the most expensive item ever sold in history, when evaluated by weight and size. The stamp’s most recent transition was its sale in June 2021 to London stamp dealer and publishing company, Stanley Gibbons PLC, for $8,307,000.
With a rich history of ownership, world record prices, and a design imbued with symbolic importance, the British Guiana 1c Magenta continues to be the epitome of rarity and desirability. This is more than a stamp; it’s a historical artifact, an object of art, and an eternal symbol of the enduring allure of philately.