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.