Famed one-cent stamp sells for nearly $9.5 million

one cent magenta auction

A tiny piece of paper nearly 160 years old reaffirmed its place as the world’s most expensive item by weight and size.

The famous British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp, the only one of its kind, was sold at Sotheby’s in New York earlier this week for $7.9 million – nearly $9.5 million if one includes the buyer’s premium.

It marks the fourth time the stamp has fetched a world-record price over its storied existence and a marked increase from the $935,000 it last sold for, when John duPont purchased it in 1980.

The stamp was produced in a very limited issue in Georgetown, British Guiana, (now Guyana) in 1856, and only one specimen is now known to exist. It features a sailing ship along with the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and expect in return).

The stamp came about after an anticipated delivery of postage stamps by ship did not arrive, forcing the local postmaster to authorize printing of an emergency issue. The postmaster gave some specifications about the design, but the printers, showing an artists’ inclination, chose to add a ship image of their own design to the stamps.

The postmaster was less than pleased with the result and, and as added protection against forgers, ordered that all correspondence bearing the stamps be autographed by a post office clerk. This cursive initials “E.D.W.” seen on the One-Cent Magenta are those of clerk E.D. Wight.

There are several reasons why this stamp reached such stratospheric heights at auction on June 17, according to The Economist:

  • The One-Cent Magenta is the only one of its kind known to exist;
  • It has a fascinating history, having been printed in 1856, just 16 years after the introduction of the first stamps, by a British Guianese newspaper when the colony was in danger of running out of stamps; and
  • There are a growing number of rich people throughout the world, due particularly to China’s turbo-charged economic rise, increasing the premium for collectible items.

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Plymouth muscle car fetches $3.78 million at auction

1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible

The Chrysler name has taken a beating in recent years, between the automaker declaring bankruptcy, being bailed out by the US government and choosing to discontinue such venerable lines as Plymouth.

While sales have rebounded over the past few years, proof of just how high automaker once flew was evident this past weekend when a Chrysler muscle car from more than 40 years ago sold for $3.78 million.

A rare 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible fetched one of the top prices ever for a muscle car June 14 at Mecum’s Seattle auction.

The $3.78 million figure makes the ’71 Plymouth the most valuable Chrysler product ever sold. The final total included an 8 percent commission for Mecum.

The Hemi Cuda was one of only two built for the US that year with a 4-speed manual transmission and a 425-hp big-block V-8 engine. Of the two, the bright blue beast sold Saturday is the only one with its original motor, according to Mecum’s.

Chrysler made just 11 Hemi Cuda convertibles in all in 1971.

1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda Convertible 2Muscle cars – the name attached to high-performance automobiles – came into prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s, with the major American automakers all producing their version of souped-up cars with powerful engines.

The segment was ultimately waylaid by rising insurance rates, the OPEC-inspired fuel crisis of the 1970s, which drove up gasoline prices, and the Clean Air Act.

According to Mecum’s, the car in question was purchased new by a “famous cartoonist” who later sold it to someone in Oregon. A few years later, however, it was confiscated in a drug bust and ended up at a police auction in 1999, where it went for the then-astonishing price of $410,000, according to Fox News.

(Photos show the 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda convertible that sold this past weekend for $3.78 million.)

Museum under scrutiny regarding noted work

Winslow_Homer_-_Milking_Time

Delaware museum officials desperate for cash have removed one of their prized paintings from their walls but remain tight-lipped about the work’s future.

Winslow Homer’s “Milking Time,” among the Delaware Art Museum’s most treasured works, disappeared from its wall and collections database earlier this month, shortly after the museum announced that it would sell as many as four artworks to repay its construction debt and replenish its endowment.

Museum officials have declined to confirm whether the 1875 oil painting of rural Americana is among works to be sold over the next few months, according to the News-Journal of Wilmington, Del.

However, museum and art experts say the change is suspicious and likely indicates the painting will be sold, the publication added.

“Milking Time” is considered a landmark painting by Homer, regarded as one of the greatest American painters of the 19th century.

Homer, the renown landscape painter, created “Milking Time” in 1875 while living on a farm in upstate New York.

“Milking Time” is a “landmark painting for him,” according to Kathleen Foster, who curated an exhibition of Homer’s seascapes for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in late 2012. The Philadelphia museum owns four Homer works, including one of his most famous, “The Life Line.”

“Milking Time” was painted during a formative time in Homer’s career, a period in which he was searching for an identity as an artist, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

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Ronald McDonald: From apathy to loathing

ronald%20mcdonald

The Ronald McDonald makeover would likely have escaped the notice of this blog had it not been for the utterly inane press release that accompanied the restyling.

As a bit of background, even as a kid I saw Ronald McDonald as, at best, a neutral figure. A large red-haired, red-nosed clown in a weird yellow outfit with giant red shoes, he had little positive or negative impact on me or my desire to consume low-grade fast food.

Last week, however, McDonald’s announced that the character was being revamped, and in a most invidious manner.

It’s not irritating enough that the clown will be garbed in a new wardrobe which includes yellow cargo pants, a vest and a red-and-white striped rugby shirt, along with “whimsical new red blazer” and a special bowtie for special events, according to a company press release.

The mindless consumerism really kicks in when one reads the press release:

Ronald McDonald, who represents the magic and happiness of the McDonald’s brand, is setting out on a global mission to rally the public through inspiring events.

For the first time, Ronald McDonald will take an active role on McDonald’s social media channels around the world and engage consumers using the #RonaldMcDonald hashtag. As Ronald begins his journey, he seeks to deliver on the mission: ‘Fun makes great things happen’ – the idea that moments of fun and enjoyment bring out the simple pleasures in life and can lead to acts of goodness.

‘Ronald brings to life the fun of our brand by connecting with customers around the world, whether he’s promoting literacy or spreading cheer at a Ronald McDonald House,’ said Dean Barrett, Senior Vice President, Global Relationship Officer. ‘Customers today want to engage with brands in different ways and Ronald will continue to evolve to be modern and relevant.’

Questions which arise from this bit of tripe: What does “Fun makes great things happen” mean?

If fun really made great things happen, my fraternity would have come up with an inexpensive means to desalinize ocean water, invented cheap, safe, portable nuclear reactors that could have helped reduce dependence on fossil fuels and cured all forms of cancer, likely within a few weekends.

Judging from our collective grade-point averages, fun alone does not make great things happen.

Following that up, the idea “that moments of fun and enjoyment bring out the simple pleasures in life and can lead to acts of goodness,” is utter nonsense that even a child would have trouble stomaching. Too often, people seeking fun and enjoyment do so at the expense of others, which doesn’t exactly lead to acts of goodness. Often, in fact, it leads to acts of utter selfishness.

If you’re going to come up with hokey marketing pabulum to throw at the masses, try not to make it sound like something out of Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984.

And then there’s “Global Relationship Officer” Dean Barrett’s assertion that, “Customers today want to engage with brands in different ways …”

Umm, no, I don’t want to “engage” with brands in different ways. I want to “engage” in the McDonald’s brand in one single, solitary way. That way consists of me forking over currency in exchange for Grade C meat products, wilted lettuce, a slice of unripe tomato and room-temperature American cheese, all slapped between two flattened buns, served by a surly teenager who detests his assistant manager and/or thinks a music company is just moments away from walking in to offer them a recording deal.

If your want to remain “modern and relevant,” stop trying to be cutting edge and concentrate on making the food edible and the hired help civil.

If all that weren’t enough to turn my stomach, McDonald’s ends its press release with this absurd idiocy: “Ronald McDonald can’t wait to connect with people through social media. ‘Selfies …here I come! It’s a big world and now, wherever I go and whatever I do…I’m ready to show how fun can make great things happen,” said Ronald McDonald.’

I’m not a fickle consumer, but I certainly don’t believe in rewarding inanity. Any company that includes the sentence “Selfies … here I come!” in a press release is, in its own way, giving the middle finger to humanity.

Whoever wrote that line ought to be force-fed Big Macs until they slip into a sodium-induced coma, then slathered with gunk from a fast-food grease trap and dropped into a pit of ravenous badgers.

Union Pacific to resurrect ‘Big Boy’ locomotive

Big Boy 4014

Railfans can’t help but love this Associated Press description of a Union Pacific locomotive that once hauled freight over the Rocky Mountains.

“In its prime, a massive steam locomotive known as Big Boy No. 4014 was a moving eruption of smoke and vapor, a 6,300-horsepower brute dragging heavy freight trains over the mountains of Wyoming and Utah.”

Even better for train aficionados, Big Boy No. 4014 is coming back to life after sitting silent for the past half century. Union Pacific is embarking on a years-long restoration project that will put the behemoth back to work pulling special excursion trains.

The locomotive is one of 25 monsters built by the American Locomotive Co. in Schenectady, N.Y., during World War II.

Earlier this month, Big Boy was moved from the RailGiants Train Museum at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, Calif., to a Union Pacific shop in Colton, Calif.

A crew at Colton will begin Monday towing it across Nevada, Utah and Wyoming to Union Pacific’s steam shop in Cheyenne, Wyo., where it is scheduled to arrive May 8, according to the wire service.

“It’s sort of like going and finding the Titanic or something that’s just very elusive, nothing that we ever thought would happen,” said Jim Wrinn, editor of Trains, a magazine that covers the railroad industry.

“Something that’s so large and powerful and magnificent, we didn’t think any of them would ever come back,” he said.

The locomotive lives up to its nickname. It’s 132-feet long, including the tender, which carried coal and water, and weighs 1.2 million pounds with a full load of fuel.

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Slate digs out maps to show SF quake’s scope

1906 san francisco earthquake map

Slate magazine is highlighting maps published shortly after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake that attempted to detail the intensity of the devastating seismic event.

The maps come from an atlas that accompanied the 1908 scientific report attempting to explain the causes and effects of the S.F. Earthquake, titled The California Earthquake of April 18, 1906: Report of the State Earthquake Investigation Committee, according to Slate.

The maps use the data that the commission collected to represent the earthquake’s intensity geographically, with one focusing on San Francisco and another on all of California and parts of Nevada and Oregon.

Susan Elizabeth Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, points out that while government officials approved funding for the commission, they refused to pay for the publication of this report.

Susan Elizabeth Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey suggested to Slate that the dominant political climate in the years after the quake, in which local businessmen and politicians tried hard to minimize reports of damage done, may have been to blame.

That climate was one of the main reasons that for many decades after the catastrophic event the quake’s death toll was reported at around 500, rather than the 3,000-plus who actually died, the figure that’s been generally accepted in recent years.

In the end, the Carnegie Institution provided financing for the report’s printing.

Besides reports on intensity of the quake, the committee included surveys of the effects on plants and animals, illustrations of damage inflicted and a map detailing the extensive fire damage that followed the quake.

“The commission used the Rossi-Forel scale, a now-outmoded measurement of earthquake intensity that incorporated seismograph readings (where available), human reports, and observed physical damage,” according to Slate. “Each map here refers to ‘apparent intensity’ of the effects – a term meant to remind the reader that the Rossi-Forel measurements had some degree of subjectivity to them.”

The Richter Scale, which is the best known of the measuring devices used to quantify earthquakes today, wasn’t created until the mid-1930s.

Does plan to divide California have a chance?

SONY DSC

California is no stranger to partition movements. The first plan to divide the state, the most populous in the US and No. 3 in overall size, was initiated in 1850, which, ironically, also happened to be the same year it joined the Union.

But today, with nearly 40 million residents spread over more than 163,000 square miles – you could fit nearly 135 states the size of Rhode Island inside California – the movement to divide the Golden State appears to gaining steam.

Among plans being put forward is one that would split it into six individual states, including one that would be called Silicon Valley and would encompass the high-tech region around the San Francisco Bay Area, and another that would be known as West California and include the Los Angeles area.

“No other state contains within it such contradictory interests, cultures, economic and political geography,” according to Keith Naughton at PublicCEO, a website that covers state and local California issues. “It has become impossible to even remotely reconcile the array of opposing forces. The only way to get anything done is to shove laws and regulations down a lot of unwilling throats.”

One of the drivers behind the six-state initiative is venture capitalist Tim Draper.

With tens of millions of people spread over an area 250 miles wide and 770 miles long, Draper believes that a single monolithic California has become ungovernable.

The state’s population is more than six times as large as the average of the other 49 states, and too many Californians feel estranged from a state government in Sacramento that doesn’t understand them or reflect their interests, according to Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe.

“The citizens of the whole state would be better served by six smaller states governments while preserving the historical boundaries of the various counties, cities and towns,” according to the Six Californias Proposal.

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