World’s Rarest stamp: 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta Going on Exhibit in April

World’s Rarest Stamp Lands at National Postal Museum

1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta Going on Exhibit in April

1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta Going on Exhibit in April

November 6, 2014 – Newsroom of The Smithsonian

The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum will display the world’s rarest postage stamp. Beginning in April 2015, the 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta will be prominently displayed in the museum’s William H. Gross Stamp Gallery for a three-year period. The exhibition of the stamp will be the longest and most publicly accessible showing ever.

No postage stamp is rarer than the sole-surviving example of the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta. Printed in black ink on magenta paper, it bears the image of a three-masted ship and the colony’s motto in Latin: “we give and expect in return.” Noted for its legacy, the stamp was rediscovered by a 12-year-old Scottish boy living in South America in 1873, and from there passed through some of the most important stamp collections ever assembled. It is the only major rarity absent from the Royal Philatelic Collection owned by Queen Elizabeth II.  

The stamp gained international attention in February when it was sold at auction by Sotheby’s New York. After considering several of the world’s most prominent philatelic museums, the anonymous buyer elected to loan the object to the National Postal Museum. Since 1986, the stamp has been on view only briefly, at select stamp shows in London, Hong Kong and Chicago.

“We love being able to showcase truly impressive objects for the world to see,” said Allen Kane, director of the museum. “Everyone loves to see rare and extremely expensive things, and this stamp certainly fits the bill.”

In 1852, British Guiana began receiving regular postage stamps manufactured in England. In 1856, a shipment of stamps was delayed, which threatened a disruption of postal service throughout British Guiana. The postmaster turned to the printers of the local Royal Gazette newspaper and commissioned a contingency supply of postage stamps: the one-cent magenta, a four-cent magenta and a four-cent blue. The sole-surviving example of the one-cent magenta was first rediscovered not far from where it was initially purchased. In 1873, L. Vernon Vaughan, a 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy living with his family in British Guiana, found the stamp among a group of family papers bearing many British Guiana issues. A budding philatelist (stamp collector), Vaughan could not have known the stamp was unique, but he did know that he did not have an example, and he added it to his album. He later sold the stamp to another collector in British Guiana for several shillings.

The British Guiana One-Cent Magenta entered the United Kingdom in 1878, and shortly after, it was purchased by Count Philippe la Renotière von Ferrary, perhaps the greatest stamp collector in history. France seized his collection, which had been donated to the Postmuseum in Berlin, as part of the war reparations due from Germany, and sold the stamp in 1922. It was bought by Arthur Hind, a textile magnate from New York, for its first auction-record price of $35,000, followed by Australian engineer Frederick T. Small, then a consortium headed by Irwin Weinberg and lastly by John du Pont, heir to the chemical company fortune, eccentric amateur sportsman and avid collector. Du Pont paid $935,000 for the stamp in a 1980 auction, another record-setting price at that time.

“Not only is the British Guiana far and away the most valuable stamp in the world, it is also, by sheer size and weight, the most valuable single object in the world today,” said David Redden, the Sotheby’s auctioneer who sold the British Guiana. “Every time the British Guiana has sold at auction it has set a new world record price for a stamp, recently selling for $9.5 million—four times higher than the price of any single stamp in history.”

The National Postal Museum is devoted to presenting the colorful and engaging history of the nation’s mail service and showcasing one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of stamps and philatelic material in the world. It is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue N.E., Washington, D.C., across from Union Station. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). For more information about the Smithsonian, call (202) 633-1000 or visit the museum website at

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  • detow  On 02/13/2015 at 4:32 pm

    It is a shame that such a treasure should be associated with such a corrupt country as present day Guyana.

  • Ron. Persaud  On 02/13/2015 at 7:32 pm

    I most respectfully beg your pardon?
    Is it also a shame that magnitude and magnificence of Kaieteur be associated with present day Guyana? – corrupt or not.
    Is it also a shame that the sentiments expressed in “Song of Guyana’s Children” be associated with present day Guyana? – corrupt or not.
    Present day Guyana – corrupt or not – cannot rewrite or alter – in any way, the history or heritage of:
    El Dorado,
    “In the midst of a lake of sapphire blue!
    The shores of the lake were golden too”
    British Guiana,
    “Another Cuba In the making” (1953)
    “Corrupt” (your word) “…or not” (mine).

    • detow  On 02/13/2015 at 9:20 pm

      Your point is well taken Ron but whenever I hear of Guyana I think corruption.

      And this is just the view of a non-resident who is still in love with British Guiana, the land where I was born, a land of many rivers and plains, cohesiveness amongst the populace, a desire to get out from under British rule, at independence looking to the future with excitement and hope that our local born politicians would grow the country from the base left by the British only to find that we do not have the ability to do much more than self/family/friends aggrandizement, marginalization of a major portion of the population, valueless currency, deterioration of the educational system, deterioration of the infrastructure, discrimination against Guyanese workers (think of the Marriott and CJA), a major increase in the brain drain due to lack of opportunity,…………need I go on. I think not.

      To link the stamp to Guyana should be declared a crime punishable by death.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 02/13/2015 at 8:23 pm

    Very good, Ron Persaud!! I had my hands handcuffed so that I won’t touch the keyboards, until now – after your level-headed rebuttal, of course.

  • detow  On 02/13/2015 at 9:30 pm

    I hope that your hands were handcuffed voluntarily as I would certainly love to see your take on this subject.(lol).

    However, what I omitted to mention in my response to Ron is that the things that he mentioned of which Guyanese are proud are all things that are local as opposed to something like the stamp which attracts global attention. Do you for a moment believe that the owners of the stamp, while reveling in the fact that the stamp originated in British Guiana, would at this time like to have it associated with present day Guyana. I don’t think so.

    Over to you.

  • Ron. Persaud  On 02/14/2015 at 4:28 am

    The poet Thomas Gray must have been thinking of the “BG one-cent Magenta” when he wrote:
    “Full many a gem of purest ray serene;
    The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear.
    Full many a flower is born to blush unseen;
    And waste its sweetness on the desert air”.
    My memory is not as good as it once was; please pardon any inaccuracy.
    And, with that, I rest my case.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 02/15/2015 at 10:35 am

    Interesting Reading from Sotheby’s:

  • Clyde Duncan  On 02/15/2015 at 10:38 am

    Excellent close-ups from Kenmore Stamp:

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