The last known example of its type in existence and owned by American footwear designer Stuart Weitzman was sold at a Sotheby's auction in June for $8.3 million, retaining its own record as the most expensive stamp in the world – it had a guide price of between $10-$15 million and Weitzman bought it in 2014 for $9.48 million. The new owner is the London-based stamp merchant Stanley Gibbons.
The Mona Lisa of philately has a fascinating provenance. It was created in British Guiana when a shortage of stamps usually imported from England threatened to disrupt the colony's postal service. It was discovered in 1873 by 12-year-old Vernon Vaughan, a Scottish boy living in British Guiana, who was going through his uncle's papers.
The stamp passed through several collectors before being spotted in 1878 by Count Philip la Renotiere von Ferrary, a noted stamp collector. He died in 1917 leaving his awesome collection to the Berlin Postal Museum for public display - many rare stamps today are described as ex-Ferrary in their provenance. Following World War 1 France seized the collection selling the stamps at auction with the proceeds deducted from Germany's war reparations. The winning bidder, setting a world record for a single stamp, was Bradford-born industrialist, Arthur Hind.
It was resold in 1980 for a record $935,000 to John du Pont, a wealthy amateur sportsman and dedicated stamp collector who murdered wrestler, Dave Schultz – a bizarre story told in the Hollywood film Foxcatcher, starring Steve Carell.
It is significant that Stanley Gibbons, the world's oldest stamp dealership, is now working at making the stamp available to a much wide audience through a digital sale and it is understood using a bare trust as the legal structure to hold the asset. In effect, members of the public will be able to purchase shares in the stamp which can be traded. The firm has created a dedicated website, 1c-magenta.com where interest in acquiring a stake must be made by next month. It is not unheard of for a consortium to buy shares in collectables, passion assets or individual works of art, or for dealers to invite investors to buy stakes in whole collections but this is thought to be the first time this model has been used in the stamp market.
The ILS World private client team has a great deal of experience supporting many passionate collectors and although the advent of email has hurt the postal mail service in recent years stamp collecting remains a passionate hobby and is part of many investment portfolios. At the same Sotheby's auction, a quartet of "Inverted Jenny" stamps, also owned by Weitzman, so named for the upside-down airplane famously misprinted on them in 1918, fetched $4.9 million - a new high mark for an American philatelic item. The buyer was David Rubenstein, the co-founder of the private equity firm the Carlyle Group.
Some people collect stamps to commemorate special events, and some collect those that feature a particular theme such as animals or plants. Similarly, a fan of music may only collect stamps that portray famous musicians. And the appeal is wide-spread and universal including Queen Elizabeth II, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, tennis player Maria Sharapova and Ronnie Wood from the Rolling Stones.
Established in 1991 ILS World is headquartered in the Isle of Man which has a worldwide reputation for producing beautiful and topical stamp issues. The Isle of Man Post Office made history in 2021 when it became the first of any British postal administration to issue triangular stamps to celebrate the Chinese New Year.
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