The Traveling Stamp

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A Black Magenta Stamp.

Many people were once avid stamp collectors and I am sure we still have some left in this world but nothing like those days when blocks of stamps purchased with the numbers printed on the edges.  Hours spent at a kitchen table, holding a magnifying glass, examining one stamp after another.  Advertisements found in all newspapers for a collection of stamps, and young children began pasting them into stamp books.

The most valuable stamp would be printed by a company who printed newspapers and never in the business of making stamps.  The story begins in April of 1856 in British Guiana, later called, Guyana – located in the northern part of South America off the Atlantic; a small colony.

jamaica-stampDuring the year 1856 the post office exhausted its’ supply of stamps – it’s supplier a British company, Waterlow and Sons.  The postmaster knew he needed a supply and asked a local printer if they could print out some stamps – the company did so, as stated, known for newspaper printing, it was a local printer, a Georgetown company.

When the stamps arrived at the post office, the people of the colony were upset by the look of the stamp: Black imprint on magenta.  The stamp was 2 1/2 inches horizontally and 1 3/5 inches vertically and included a picture of a ship which resembled the seal of the colony.  Perhaps the company believed it appeared more like a seal if they clipped the corners and make it octagon in shape.  The stamp signed with the Assistant Postmasters initials, E.D.W. – stamps were easily counterfeited and postal officials ordered each stamp to bare the initials for safety reasons, and do away with counterfeiters.  At the time, stamps were not the only counterfeit scheme; American counterfeit money was showing up at American ports, buried beneath shipments of fruit.

The one-cent and four-cent stamp were used but stamp collectors ignored this one and most were tossed out with the envelope or postcard.  Soon it was believed the one-cent stamp was near extinction.

A schoolboy who collected stamps, at the age of twelve in 1873, came across the old once cent stamp and soaked it off the envelope.  The stamp also had a cancel mark “Demerara” a name used by the colony and it displayed the initials E.D.W.

The boy Wight L. Vernon Vaughan had no clue he was holding a stamp in his collection that would turn out to be the world’s most valuable stamp.  He took the stamp and sold it for fifty cents to purchase more stamps from the postmaster N.R. McKinnon.

McKinnon held onto the stamp for a few years and realized it
was indeed, a rare stamp.  He took it to an English collector who paid him $100.00 dollars, and the collector turned around and sold it for $800.00 to a Parisian Collector.

We understand the value of collectibles – many become more valuable by the owner.  The Parisian Collector had put together some fine stamp collections known during this time, but after his death the collector and owner of the black print magenta stamp with a ship shaped like an octagon, was purchased within one of his collections by collector Philippela Renotiere von Ferrari, the son of a well to do family, and his mother an Austrian Duchess.  One stamp I recall being valuable and hearing about on the news, was the plane printed upside down during World War II.

stampPhillip had this interest in stamp collecting and the money to purchase as many collections in his lifetime, without a second look and this brought him all over the world.  When Count Phillip Ferrari died in 1917, he left all of his stamp collections to a British Museum.  Following World War I, France occupied the collection containing the black magenta stamp.  France sold all the collections from 1920 – 1925 which brought national attention, but it would be the black magenta stamp that interested collectors.

During the auction – the stamp was part of one collection and three rich Kings were interested in purchasing that specific collection.  They were unsuccessful and the newest owner of the collection with the black magenta stamp would be a textile manufacturer in America named Arthur Hind. His bid was $36,000.  He left France and brought the stamp and others back to his home in Utica, New York.

Hind was approached by another collector who presented him with yet another one-cent stamp, black and magenta, with a boat, initials, and octagon in shape.  Hind told his wife once the man left, and purchasing his stamp for a great deal less than his own payment, burnt the stamp so his stamp would still be the only one in existence.

When Hind died in around 1937 – the stamp was placed on exhibit at the 39/40 World’s Fair, and then, Hind’s wife allowed the stamp to travel to other places around the world, her belief was it could not be the only one.  At one point, she did go to court to retain the rights to the stamp but once she did, she turned around and sold it for only four thousand dollars more then what her husband paid, at $40,000.

The new owner of this traveling stamp was a man who resided in the State of Florida by the name of Frederick Small, in 1970.  When Frederick bragged about owning the stamp he showed a printed copy on paper, never letting the stamp be touched by others.  Eventually, Frederick thought it was time to sell the stamp, things were changing, including gas lines, less travel to Florida, and he was getting on in age.  He contacted the well-known stamp company in Pa. – Wilkes-Baire Stamp Company. Wilkes-Baire was aware of the stamp since the World’s Fair of 39/40, and was excited to get their hands on it, and paid Frederick Small, $286,000. Stories began to emerge about Wilkes traveling with the stamp, around the world, with handcuffs and a black suitcase, which contained the stamp.

Ten years later in the late 80’s, Wilkes sold the stamp for $986,000 but before he delivered the stamp he did the correct thing, signed his initials to the back of it.  This did not destroy its’ value.

So the stamp continued to travel, now owned by the famous DuPont family, known for collecting stamps and owning vast companies.  People wrote stories about the family, how they slept with this stamp under their pillow at night – but stories were running rapid, as they do today.

Expensive stamps have been sold since DuPont purchased the black magenta stamp – one such stamp was the British penny black – auctioned for $2.4 million dollars in 1993, and in Europe on the cover of “Mauritius,” two stamps attached and mailed in 1847 sold for $3.3 million.

Experts of the world of stamp collecting believe the black magenta stamp would cost more on open market, much more, if it sold today.  It is now located in the area of Newtown Square in Pa.

So if anyone out there collects stamps, do not ignore the octagon shape black and magenta stamp with a ship – including the initials E.D.W.

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