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

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In 1856, British Guiana, now independent Guyana, printed their one-cent stamp with barely visible errors. While the fact was inconsequential to most of us then and now, for a handful of philately fanatics the error has meant a fortune, a passion, and a rollicking good tale for James Barrow to tell. Stamps are seemingly a safer investment than art or property for when economic times are bad and the tiny, faded scrap of paper has drawn several owners–some eccentric, one famously criminal, all wealthy–who either hid or exhibited their unique acquisition.

In 1878, the one-cent magenta came into the hands of the aristocratic Philippe von Ferrary, dowdy in dress but invariably sporting a yachting cap. He bought stamps ravenously, divulging a sentiment undoubtedly expressed by other owners: “I would sooner buy one hundred forgeries than miss that variety I could not find elsewhere.” Similarly extravagant, Arthur Hinds, according to legend, saw a possible duplicate and treacherously burned it. When he visited Buckingham Palace, he showed the stamp to King George V, a dedicated collector, and boasted of the superiority of his own collection.

Irwin Weinberg, a rags-to-riches industrialist who relished exhibiting no less than P.T. Barnum did, formed a partnership with seven colleagues to purchase the stamp. When ready to sell, he found the ideal buyer in no less a character than John du Pont, who died in prison in 2010, found guilty of murdering a wrestler.

Most recently, Stuart Weitzman, who made his fortune designing high-fashion shoes, purchased the stamp in 2014. This exhilarating book of revealing details of rare stamps and their collectors comes to an end, though for sure the story will continue.

Reviewed By:

Author James Barron
Star Count /5
Format Hard
Page Count 224 pages
Publisher Algonquin Books
Publish Date 2017-Mar-07
ISBN 9781616205188 Buy this Book
Issue March 2017
Category History


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