So the stamp community has a new world record as the British Guiana one-cent magenta sold for more than any other stamp in the world.
How much the stamp sold for is not as simple a number as it might seem. The hammer price was $7.9 million, but when you add the premium, the amount is $9.48 million. Some people argue that the real price was the amount paid without the premium, since it is the number you hear on the auction floor. Others argue that the price after premium is the real price, since the bidder knew the premium would be added and took that amount into consideration. Still others might point out that if the buyer is a resident of New York State, where the auction took place, that number is even higher, since a state sales tax will be applied. Just for the record, the amounts named above are in U.S. funds. Converted to Canadian the hammer price was $8.55 million, up to $10.26 million after the premium.
Who would have thought that the question “how much” would have more than one answer?
Now if your mind, like mine, boggles a bit at the thought of a stamp worth essentially $10 million, hang on to your hat. The selling price came at around half of the $20 million estimate prior to the sale. Frankly, I always thought that number was a bit more than hopeful.
Don’t get the wrong idea. I would have loved to see the stamp sell for that much, but I just didn’t think that sounded likely. Any sale as big as this is bound to be accompanied by a little bit of hyperbole. The selling price, while half what some people expected, is ten times what the previous owner, John du Pont paid for it back in 1980.
In 1980 the average household income in the U.S. was about $16,500 while last year it was about $51,400. That is an increase of between three and four times, clearly well below the increase enjoyed by the British Guiana. This is remarkable enough, but for most of its history, that particular stamp has belonged not to investors but to collectors. It goes without saying that most of these collectors had the means to acquire such a valuable stamp, almost without exception, they valued it for its philatelic significance and not its investment value.
Strangely, there are several stamps that have a population of just one. I think that’s what makes the one-cent magenta so special is the story. Found by a young collector, seized by the French government for war reparations, and most recently owned by a convicted murderer, the stamp comes with a great story.
This is a rare event. I am not a spring chicken and it has only changed hands three times in my life. Du Pont owned for 30 years and Philipp von Ferrary owned it for 39 years. The new owner, whoever that may be, could very well own the magenta for another three decades. Rumours and speculation abound such as, the stamp will be donated to a museum, it will be going on display, it is the key piece for a new exhibit being prepared, or that it will disappear until the new owner dies and the estate is sold. As the new owner asked for, and received, complete anonymity, rumours are meaningless. The only thing we know for sure is that the most famous stamp in the world is now the most valuable.