World’s most valuable stamp sold for $8.3m to London dealer
The world’s most valuable stamp has been bought for $8.3m by Stanley Gibbons, which plans to offer investors a chance to buy fractional ownership of the unique asset as part of a push by the 165-year-old company into digital collecting.
The 1856 One-Cent Magenta from British Guiana — known as the Mona Lisa of the stamp collecting world as the only one in existence as well as for its value — was bought at auction at Sotheby’s in New York from the collection of luxury shoe designer Stuart Weitzman.
At the same auction, David Rubenstein, co-founder of private equity firm Carlyle Group, bought a block of “inverted Jenny” stamps — famous for an upside-down aeroplane misprint — for $4.9m, setting a record for a US stamp sale. The money will go to charitable ventures.
The One-Cent Magenta has attracted record prices through its history. In 1856, British Guiana issued a small number of the temporary stamps while its postmaster waited for a shipment from England that had been delayed by a storm.
It last sold for $9.5m in 2014, which was a record at the time. According to the Smithsonian, which has exhibited the stamp, it has only appeared on rare occasions in public. Previous owners include John du Pont, heir to the DuPont chemical fortune.
The purchase by London-based Stanley Gibbons amounts to more than a third of the market capitalisation of the Aim-listed company.
Shares in the group rose almost 10 per cent on Wednesday to above 3p, although they have largely not moved since the 2018 bailout of the company by fund manager Phoenix. The group took a controlling 58 per cent stake in the stamp merchant, and reduced the listed company’s debts, as part of a £20m deal.
Since then, a new management has restructured the company to cut costs and focus on profitable markets, although the turnround strategy has since been hit by falling sales in the pandemic.
Phoenix has provided a five-year interest-free loan to acquire the stamp, which will be displayed at the Stanley Gibbons flagship store on the Strand in London. The 165-year-old stamp is the same age as the company, which is the world’s oldest rare stamp dealer.
Graham Shircore, chief executive of Stanley Gibbons, said the company wanted to make it available for everybody to own through fractional ownership and the creation of digital collections.
Stanley Gibbons is also in talks to partner Castelnau Group, another company controlled by Phoenix, which is developing a digital platform to buy, sell and collect assets.
Shircore said the deal brought together “the world’s largest stamp dealer and the world’s most valuable stamp”.
He added that the company was a dealer, rather than collector in its own right, although would hope that the stamp would appreciate in value under its ownership. Plans were already under way to sell “shares” in the stamp to philatelists, he said, describing it as a “huge transaction” for a relatively “small business”.
Harry Wilson, chair of Stanley Gibbons, said the purchase was “a highly significant next step in the rebuilding of the world’s oldest stamp dealer”.