The British Guiana

The British Guiana, one of the world’s first postage stamps from the 19th century, sold to an anonymous private bidder at Sotheby’s in New York on 17 June in just two minutes—at nearly one billion times its original face value.  Although Sotheby’s provided a $10-20m estimate prior to the sale, its selling price of $9.5m still set a new auction record.

 The black on magenta stamp includes an image of a three-masted ship and the former motto: “We give and expect in return.”  Measuring one inch by one inch, Sotheby’s states it is the most expensive object sold in history by size and weight.  The British Guiana broke the record previously held by the Treskilling Yellow, which sold for $2.2m in 1996.

Often referred to as “the world’s most famous and valuable stamp,” David Redden, Sotheby’s Vice-chairman, notes the value of the British Guiana resides in its rich history and rarity.  The British Guiana was produced in a former British colony in South America, now Guyana, resulting from a stamp shipment delay in Britain in 1856 where its stamps were printed.  Until the shipment arrive, three stamps were printed by a newspaper publisher: a four-cent magenta, four-cent blue and one-cent magenta.  And the latter, the British Guiana one-cent magenta, is believed to be the only one to still exist today.

But the story does not end there.  The rarity of the British Guiana adds to its allure.  It is the one great British Empire 19th century stamp missing from the Royal Stamp Collection, Mr. Redding explains.  Indeed, stamps became keenly sought after 1860 as a collectable, telling historical and geographical stories.  The British Guiana, for example, was found by a 12 year old school boy in South America in 1873.  Since then, this stamp has appeared in stamp collections worldwide.  John du Pont, of the du Pont family, was the last owner of this famous stamp when he purchased it in 1980 for $935,000.  And it has not been on public view since 1986.

What will be the next record-breaking price of a stamp?  David Redding believes the British Guiana price will be hard to beat.  He states: “We are thrilled with tonight’s extraordinary, record-setting price of $9.5 million—a truly great moment for the world of stamp collecting. That price will be hard to beat, and likely won’t be exceeded unless the British Guiana comes up for sale again in the future.”