British Guiana collection nets nearly $9M, minus its star

While the British Guiana one-cent magenta sold recently for $10 million stole the spotlight, many collectors were just as interested in the balance of John du Pont’s British Guiana collection, which went on the block just a few days later in a sale conducted by David Feldman.

The sale realized more than €6 million ($8.75 million) with every single lot selling for more than the pre-sale estimate. While the sale was conducted in Geneva and bids were in euros, this report converts prices realized to Canadian dollars, including buyer’s premiums.

“In 40 years as an auctioneer, I have never had the experience where every single lot was underbid to an astonishing multiple of the original estimate, leaving no lot unsold,” Feldman said.

When the dust settled, the 131-lot sale brought in five times the estimates.

A four-cent black on blue used on cover, with the initials EDW for E.D. Wright, a postal clerk at the time, realized $420,000. Wright’s initials also appear on the one-cent magenta.

The four-cent was printed at the same time as the famed one cent. At that time, postmaster E.T.E. Dalton, postmaster in Georgetown, capital of British Guiana, literally ran out of stamps when a shipment failed to arrive on time. He authorized local printers Joseph Baum and William Dallas to print up emergency stamps: a one-cent magenta for newspapers, and four-cent blues and magentas for regular mail. While rare, several examples of the four-cent stamps are known to exist.

The design was a sailing ship and the colony’s motto: Damus Petimus Que Vicissim (We give and expect in return), inside a box, with the words British Guiana Postage and value around the outside.

Dalton ordered that the stamp had to be initialled by a post office clerk, as a precaution against forgery.

Because the four-cent stamps were used for regular correspondence, a large number of them survived.

A second four-cent black on blue off cover sold for $350,000.

Much of du Pont’s British Guiana collection was assembled during the 1980s. At that time it was an award-winning collection.
The story of British Guiana philately is about improvisation.

The sale included a large run of round stamps, dubbed cotton reels. The primitive-looking stamps were produced in 1850, when postal service was inaugurated in the colony. They were produced by combing type and a piece of wire. Printed on sheets without adhesive, they had to be cut out, and then attached with whatever adhesive was handy. As with the later provisionals, they had to be franked with a postal clerk’s initials before they could be used.

An eight-cent value, printed in black on blue-green paper, with the initials of postal clerk W.H. Lorimer, on cover, sold for $225,000, about 10 times the estimate.

A 12-cent black on blue, unusual in that it is not initialled, also sold for $225,000, about four times the estimate.
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