British Guiana: Democratising the Philatelic Holy Grail

It’s the most famous philatelic artefact and the holy grail for philatelists – the British Guiana 1c Magenta (featured image courtesy of Wikipedia:Contents). Stamps from this former British colony in South America, now Guyana, are considered some of the rarest in the world. The 1c Magenta comes with quite a back story and that tale has now been further embellished with the announcement that you can own a part of it!

British Guiana’s earliest stamps were printed in black on coloured paper at the offices of the Royal Gazette in the capital, Georgetown, in July 1850. They were imperforate and simply produced in letterpress with circular borders giving rise to their nickname, ‘cotton-reels’. These first stamps were issued in values of 4, 8 and 12c and to combat fraud, each stamp was initialled by the postmaster or one of the clerks. A 2c was later added to the issue in March 1851. New rates of 1c for printed material and 4c for letters, were issued in January 1852 using the more advanced lithographic methods – the first stamps to be issued by Waterlow and Sons in England.

British Guiana 1852 4c stamp featuring sailing ship and motto
1852 4c Waterlow & Sons issue featuring sailing ship and motto

At that time, sailings from England were irregular and supplies of the new stamps were sometimes exhausted. On one such occasion in 1856, a replacement imperforate issue for both the 1c (magenta) and 4c (various shades of magenta and blue) values was printed out of the office of the Official Gazette in Georgetown using former techniques. Like their replacement issue, the stamps featured a sailing ship along with the colony’s motto in latin Damus Petimus Que Vicissim, ‘We give and expect in return’. The 1c magenta is the rarest stamp and only one copy is now known to exist.

However, the British Guiana 1c magenta didn’t come to prominence until it was found by a 12 year old British Guiana school boy, L. Vernon Vaughan, who sold the stamp to a local collector, Neil McKinnon, so that he could buy more stamps. McKinnon paid just 1 dollar 25 cents for the stamp. Since then, the stamp has graced the collections of wealthy philatelists including Philip Ferrari de La Renotière, Arthur Hind and Robert A. Siegel. Ferrari de La Renotière, owner of arguably the largest stamp collection, acquired the stamp for the princely sum of £150. By 1970, Siegel had to part with US $280,000.

Picture of Philip Ferrari de La Renotière (courtesy of Wiki:Contents)
Philip Ferrari de La Renotière (courtesy of Wiki:Contents)

In 1980, John E. Du Pont, heir to the Du Pont family fortune acquired the stamp for US $935,000. Du Pont was later imprisoned for the murder of the Olympian, David Schultz, and the stamp was understood to have been locked in a bank vault. In 2014, the stamp was sold from the Du Pont estate, breaking the world record for a single stamp at auction, reaching US $9,480,000. The purchaser later identified himself as Stuart Weitzman, a shoe designer and businessman.

The stamp was auctioned again on 8 June 2021 and was bought for US $8,307,000. Shortly afterwards, the stamp dealing and philatelic publishing firm of Stanley Gibbons revealed themselves as the buyers of the stamp, announcing that they would place it on public display at their flagship store located at 399 Strand in London’s West End. Stanley Gibbons have also indicated that it is their intention to democratise the stamp’s ownership, making it available for everybody to own a piece of this unique collectable through the concepts of fractional ownership and digital collections. You can register your interest at

https://www.stanleygibbons.com/collecting-stamps/dispatches/historic-moment-stanley-gibbons

To view postal issues of British Guiana, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Published by nigelmandsphilatelycom

Nigel Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 30 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the Caribbean including associated British Commonwealth countries (incl. Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Monserrat, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos) as well as Cuba, Danish West Indies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico.

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