World's Most Famous Stamp Still Making News

Michael O. Nowlan - July 2, 1999
 

One of the finest little treasures in my stamp collection is practically worthless, but the original is valued at one million dollars. The item in question is the 1856 British Guiana one-cent Magenta, of which only one is extant. Mine is a facsimile, but I dug out my little prize recently as I read of a possibility that a second one-cent Magenta may exist.

Early this year, both the philatelic press and big newspapers raised the stakes of the famous stamp. In January, several sources reported a second one-cent had appeared and was being expertized by the Royal Philatelic Society (RPS) in London. What excitement! A second Magenta would spell new direction for the known one, which is reported housed in a bank vault safety deposit box in the eastern United States.

After months of anticipation, Linn's Stamp News (June 21) reports the RPS has stated the second one-cent Magenta is a fake created from the four-cent British Guiana stamp that was printed in the same color, paper and format as the one-cent.

RPS has also let it be know that it was the second time they have been asked to look at the fake stamp. In 1989, the British expertizing committee drew a similar conclusion and refused to certify the stamp.

Owned by German opera singer Peter Winter, the stamp will not disappear. Winter, who got the stamp in the 1980s, claims he bought it from a Romanian dancer whose grandfather had owned it for years. He maintains it is genuine, and he presents several arguments in the stamp's favor for authenticity. Consequently, he will now send it to the American Philatelic Society expertizing committee for their opinion, a decision that will be awaited with much anticipation.

In the meantime, the intrigue centering on the second one-cent Magenta is immense, and, perhaps it will become legend like that of the one genuine specimen. The stamp was found in Bremen, Germany the site of a major stamp forging business in the 1980s. Peter Winter is even known as a stamp forger. A one-cent magenta has been among his forgeries.

The original Magenta is now owned by millionaire John E. duPont, who is serving a 30-year sentence for a murder conviction. The stamp was issued as a British Guiana provisional because a shipment of stamps was delayed coming from Great Britain. Why two stamps were printed in very similar fashion, except for the denomination, is not known, but it probably accounts for the nature of the rushed printing. How many were used of either denomination is questionable. The four-cent is known to be printed on several types of paper.

(Editor's note: The image above is the disputed stamp; the genuine stamp is shown below.)

The center of the stamp depicts a three-masted ship while a Latin inscription - Damus Petimus Que Vicissim (We give and expect in return) - appears above and below the ship. The country's name and the denomination are printed outside a frame, in which the ship is enclosed. The Stanley Gibbons British Commonwealth catalogue says "no market price can be given" since only one exists. R. Scott Carlton's The International Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Philately says the 1856 stamp was discovered among some family papers by a youth in 1873, who sold it to a collector for six shillings.

The world's most famous stamp changed hands several times before it was purchased by automobile giant Count Philippe von Ferrari in the early 1920s for $750. It was bought by American Arthur Hind of Utica, New York in a 1922 auction for approximately $30,000. The most recent sale of the stamp before duPont ownership was to stamp dealer Irwin Weinberg, who made the purchase in 1970 for a syndicate for $280,000. DuPont paid $935,000 for it in 1980.

Alas, my little facsimile pales, not only in color, but in price. Nonetheless, it will remain a special item in my permanent collection with no price attached. It opened my eyes to the wonders of stamp collecting so long ago. It still fascinates me. Indeed, I got something special back then.

Wait until the APS takes a look at the supposed fake. That will be another story.

Alan Herbert retired as editor of Coins Magazine in 1994. He is now a contributing editor for Coins and three other Krause Publications periodicals. Known throughout the Internet as "Answerman," Herbert writes four question-and-answer columns in the KP numismatic magazines and newspapers, a job he started in 1968.


Michael O. Nowlan was born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada. He grew up on a nearby farm, was educated, and became a teacher. In retirement, he follows his life-long avocation of writing. His credits include 16 books (four books of poems, two children's titles, and anthologies for schools). In recent years, he has written extensively about stamp collecting for CANADIAN STAMP NEWS, GIBBONS INTERNATIONAL STAMP NEWS, and other philatelic publications.


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