UK & World News

  • 18 June 2014, 13:08

'Mona Lisa' Of Stamps Sets New Auction Record

A postage stamp from a 19th century British colony in South America has become the world's most valuable stamp - again.

The 1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta has sold for $9.5m (5.6m) at a Sotheby's auction in New York.

It was the fourth time it has broken the auction record for a single stamp in the 158 years since it was made.

The British Guiana, which went to an anonymous buyer, was expected to fetch between $10mand $20m.

Nonetheless, Sotheby's vice chairman David Redden still labelled the sale "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," he added.

The previous auction record for a single stamp was held by an 1855 Swedish stamp, which sold for $2.3m (1.35m) in 1996.

Measuring 1in by 1in (2.5cm by 3.2cm), the British Guiana has not been on public view since 1986 and is the only major stamp absent from the British Royal Family's private Royal Philatelic Collection.

"You're not going to find anything rarer than this," said Allen Kane, director of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. "It's a stamp the world of collectors has been dying to see for a long time."

David Beech, former curator of stamps at the British Library, has described the British Guiana as the Mona Lisa of stamps.

Printed in black 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."

It went into circulation after a shipment of stamps was delayed from London and the postmaster asked printers to create three stamps until the others arrived: a one-cent magenta, a four-cent magenta and a four-cent blue.

Of these, only the one-cent stamp is known to exist today.

The last owner was John E. du Pont, an heir to the du Pont chemical fortune who paid a record $935,000 (550,000) for it in 1980.

The stamp was sold by his estate, which will designate some of the proceeds to the Eurasian Pacific Wildlife Conservation Foundation that du Pont championed.

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