The Magenta

Philatelic Buzz over “World’s Most Famous Stamp”

Closing at a record US$9.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in June (2014), talk of the 1856 British Guiana one-cent Magenta stamp was all the buzz when the American Philatelic Society (APS) hosted its annual stamp show in Hartford, Connecticut in August.

Evan Marowitz of  New York-based Champion Stamp Company Inc. told Insight there was “tremendous interest” in Guyanese stamps at the show “because of all the excitement generated by the auction.”

The British Guiana one-cent Magenta is known as “the world’s most famous stamp” and, prior to the auction in June had not been on public view since 1986. It was once owned by infamous British millionaire/convicted murderer, John Du Pont.

BG Collection

The stamp is the subject of philatelic folklore with, among other things, the claim that the last surviving sample might actually be a tampered version of the much less famous 4 cent stamp of the same series.

There has also been the claim that a previous owner of the one-cent Magenta had found a second stamp and destroyed it in order to maintain the value of the one in his possession.

Then there was the assertion by a German collector in 1999 that he was in possession of a one-cent British Guiana stamp. This was quickly disproved following an examination of the stamp by the Royal Philatelic Society of London.

Packet services using British stamps are known to have existed in Guyana since 1796 with adhesive stamps produced by the colony appearing on the scene in 1850. Because of the country’s long philatelic history, its early stamps are among rarest, most expensive and sought after in the world.


At the Connecticut Convention Centre in August, several exhibitors displayed extensive varieties of Guyanese and other British West Indian colonial stamps as part of their extensive collections.

Few were convinced that there were any close competitors for the title of the world’s most famous stamp.

This article was written by Wesley Gibbings for Insight Volume 3, Edition 1 (2015)





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