The One-cent Magenta
Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World
An inside look at the obsessive, secretive, and often bizarre world of high-profile stamp collecting, told through the journey of the world's most sought-after stamp. When it was issued in 1856, it cost a penny. In 2014, this tiny square of faded red paper sold at Sotheby's for nearly $10 million, the largest amount ever paid for a postage stamp at auction. Through the stories of the eccentric characters who have bought, owned, and sold the One-Cent Magenta in the years in between, James Barron delivers a fascinating tale of global history and immense wealth, and of the human desire to collect. One-cent magentas were provisional stamps, printed quickly when a shipment of official stamps from London did not arrive in what was then British Guiana. They were intended for periodicals, and most were thrown out with the newspapers. But one stamp survived. The singular One-Cent Magenta has had only nine owners since a twelve-year-old boy rediscovered it in 1873 as he sorted through papers in his uncle's house. He soon sold it for what would be $17 today. (That's been called the worst stamp swap in history.) Among later owners was a fabulously wealthy French nobleman who hid the stamp from almost everyone (even King George V of England couldn't get a peek); a businessman who traveled with the stamp in a briefcase he handcuffed to his wrist; and John E. du Pont, an heir to the chemical fortune, who died while serving a thirty-year sentence for the murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz. For fans of Nicholas Basbanes, Susan Orlean, and Simon Winchester, The One-Cent Magenta explores the intersection of obsessive pursuits and great affluence and asks why we want most what is most rare.
New York : Algonquin Books, 2017.
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