For the first time since the record-breaking auction in June last year, the famous British Guiana 1c Magenta will be on display on behalf of the new owner for at the prestigious Monacophil 2015 in December.
Below is an article about the 1c Magenta taken from the Encyclopaedia of Rare and Famous Stamps, vol.2, pp.23-30, by L. N. Williams, published by David Feldman in 1992.
An order had been placed in 1856 with Waterlow & Sons of London for a supply of stamps but they failed to arrive before stocks became exhausted. The postmaster had no alternative but to order some provisional stamps. The Gazette was again asked to print them.
Rather than use an entirely new design, the postmaster directed that the stamps should follow the general outline of the current issue as closely as possible. The design consisted mainly of the seal of the colony – a ship and the motto “Damus Petimusque Vicissim”. The other wording on the stamps was the colony’s name, the value and “Postage”.
The stamps were produced from ordinary printer’s type and rules, on a small hand-press measuring 18 x 12 inches. After some discussion between the postmaster and the printers, it was decided to print the block of a ship used as a heading for ‘Shipping Notes’ in the Official Gazette. The stamps were printed on several papers; those from the first printing on magenta entered circulation in February 1856.
It is not known whether the order specified stamps of the value of 4 cents only or both 1 and 4 cents. If only 4 cents stamps were ordered, Baum and Dallas must have made a mistake in the stamps printed on magenta paper. On the other hand, if some 1 cent stamps were ordered it is peculiar that they should have been printed on paper of the same colour as the 4 cents.
When the stamps were delivered, the postmaster found himself in a further difficulty. So primitive was the appearance and so poor the production of the stamps, that he did not consider them to be safe from forgery. Accordingly, he adopted an expedient which had been used successfully six years earlier with the Cottonreels and he ordered the postal officials to initial each stamp before selling it. Most stamps of the 1856 issue bear the initials of E.D. W(ight), but other exist with those of E.T.E. D(alton), C.A. W(atson) and W.H. L(ortimer).
In 1873, L. Vernon Vaughan, of British Guiana, then a boy not yet in his teens, had only just begun to collect stamps. He was delighted when he found a lot of correspondence, most of it bearing the early stamps of British Guiana. One of the pieces of mail bore the 1 cent of 1856. It was not a very good specimen, being cut octagonally and rather dirty, but he did not have a copy in his album and decided to keep it. The stamp had been initialled at the left by E.D. Wight and was postmarked “Demerara AP 4 1856”. Vaughan soaked the specimen off the cover and added the stamp to his collection.
Shortly afterwards, he received some sets of brightly coloured unused foreign stamps on approval from an English dealer. Vaughan was anxious to buy all of them and more, but as his pocket-money was meagre, he decided to supplement it by selling some of his British Guiana stamps. He had heard that N.R. McKinnon was a keen collector and Vaughan selected the 1 cent stamp as being a suitable object for sale because of its poor condition and because he was quite certain of finding a better specimen when next he took the trouble to look through the old correspondence.
At first McKinnon refused to buy the stamp. He said it was a bad specinen and he objected to the fact that it was cut octagonally instead of being square. However, eventually he made an offer of one and a half dollars when he learned the reason for Vaughan’s desire to sell. When handing over the money, McKinnon said: “Now look here, my lad, I am taking a great risk in paying so much for this stamp and I hope you will appreciate my generosity”.
Some five years later, McKinnon decided to sell his collection and placed it in the hands of his friend, Wylie Hill, of Glasgow. Five of the stamps were offered to Edward Loines Pemberton for £110, but, probably owing to illness, he failed to clinch the deal.
The entire collection was then offered by post to several other dealers, among them Thomas Ridpath. He was very keen to buy the stamps but did not have the cash needed. However, as on previous occasions, he was financed by James Botteley, a Birmingham collector and one of Ridpath’s clients.
In the meantime, Pemberton wrote to Wylie Hill and enclosed in the letter a cheque in payment for the stamps. By the time the letter arrived, Ridpath had borrowed the money, made a special journey to Glasgow, bought the collection for £120 and was on his way home, all within twenty-four hours. In return for his loan, Botteley, as usual, was allowed to have the first pick from the collection, but he was asked by Ridpath, as a special favour, not to take the 1 cent stamp as the dealer could obtain a far greater price from Paris than he would dream of asking Botteley. This was readily agreed; Botteley did not particularly want the stamp as the four corners were clipped. Although Ridpath knew that the 1 cent was rare, it is very doubtful whether he ever dreamed that it was unique. He sold it to Ferrary; the price, although never definitely disclosed, is said to have been about £150.
In November of the same year, Pemberton, who had had an opportunity of examining the McKinnon collection, wrote about it to F.A. Philbrick. In describing the collection, Pemberton stated that it included a “ONE cent red, 1856! ! ! as genuine as anything ever was”.
Once in Ferrary’s collection, the stamp became almost a legend and not until the auction on 6 April 1922 did it come on to the market again. The sale aroused tremendous interest among philatelists. By that time, the stamp was definitely known to be unique.
The bidding opened hesitatingly, and for a short time it seemed as though the stamp would be sold for under 100,000 francs (about £2,000 at that time). Then the proceedings livened up and developed into a duel between Maurice Burrus, of Müllheim and Hugo Griebert, a London dealer acting on behalf of Arthur Hind, a British-born American millionaire plush manufacturer.
A hush settled over the room, interspersed with murmurs of wonder and gasps of amazement from the onlookers as, by leaps and bounds, the bidding rose to heights previously unknown in a stamp auction: 200,000 francs … 250,000 … 275.,000 … 300,000. At the final figure, a rustle of unbelieving wonderment permeated the tense atmosphere. The story has it, that the tension was further increased when the spectators realised that both contenders claimed to have made the last bid but that issue was not long in doubt as M. Burrus courteously gave way to Mr. Griebert. The story also has it that the dealer had instructions, if necessary, to bid up to £14,000 for the stamp.
However, almost thirty years later, in an article entitled “La Tiara de Saitapharnes de la Philatélie” – a reference to a purportedly ancient gold circlet bought by the Louvre in 1896 and subsequently condemned as a fake, rather after the manner of the more recent condemnation of Piltdown Man – in Selection no 3 published by L. Miro in 1951, Maurice Burrus wrote that he had called at Gilbert’s office, shortly before the Ferrary sale, to view the 1 cent and inspected it. Gilbert said that he did not regard the stamp as a “timbre type”, namely, a stamp of a standard issue. Later on, Burrus had an appointment for luncheon with a friend and, while awaiting his arrival, was sitting reading a newspaper when two people sat down near him and were speaking in German about the 1 cent. One of them, facing away from Maurice Burrus, was Hugo Griebert, who said that he had a nearly unlimited bid from an unnamed American customer to buy the stamp. Although Burrus did not believe in the genuineness of the stamp and was not interested in it, he decided to give Griebert a run for his money, the limit to which he was liable to go being understood by Burrus from having listened to the conversation.
So the stamp became the property of Arthur Hind; for it he had to pay not only the 300,000 francs bid but also a tax of 17.5%, making the total amount the equivalent of £7,343 for many years the highest price ever paid for a single postage stamp. The interest on that sum at 5 % per annum amounts to about £367, so that the privilege of merely owning the stamp, in effect, cost Hind £1 a day.
During his possession of the stamp Hind loaned it several tines for exhibition and it crossed the oceans in nothing more substantial than a registered envelope.
In a unique contribution to philatelic literature, Arthur Hind wrote about his ownership in an article published in the Catalogue of the International Philatelic Exhibition p 15 held at Melbourne, Australia, from 29 October to 1 November 1928 under the auspices of, inter alios, what is now the Royal Philatelic Society of Victoria, through whose courtesy the article is reproduced here.
The World’s Rarest Stamp. By Arthur Hind, Utica, U.S.A.
‘What is it like to own the World’s Rarest Stamp?’
You refer of course to my possession of the unique 1 cent British Guiana, which has changed me, philatelically, from an almost unknown modest collector to an almost best known prominent collector. Well, this purchase has stimulated my philatelic ambition with considerable results in both knowledge and material; and this one stamp has caused me to be ridiculed.
At the International Exhibition in London in 1923, a reporter describing his interview with me said: ‘The 1 cent stamp 1856 British Guiana was cut square and magenta in colour. Mr. Hind, born in 1856 in Bradford, was cut round and rather paler magenta’.
The parochial organ of the Church of St. Matthew, Portsmouth, edited by the Rev. E. Bruce Cornford, M.A., in his anti-philatelic outburst, among other things, printed about me as owner of the 1 cent British Guiana: ‘I began to think furiously of the future interview with the owner at “The Gate”.’
‘I crave admittance’.
‘Have you fed the poor, visited the sick, relieved distress’?
‘No, I really hadn’t time, but I have here a 1 cent British Guiana stamp, in a grease-proof envelope, for which I paid £7,000. Even his Majesty the King of Great Britain personally congratulated me upon acquiring it. Would you like to see it?’
‘Such tiny fragments of paper will readily burn in Hell’.
There are many like the late Hugo Griebert, who was my European agent and upon whose advice I bought it, who believe it to be the only stamp of any regular Goverment issue of which only one copy is known and therefore of the greatest rarity.
There are others with, perhaps, feelings that I have lost my business instincts (if indeed I ever had any) and who in many cases are void themselves, who submit worthless items at big prices; but fortunately for me, many others realise that valuable and wonderful items will only merit full consideration in a proper market.
The unfortunate side of being prominent in stamps is that so many of the correspondents who have no knowledge whatsoever about stamps or their value, must be disappointed when not receiving replies to their simple but ignorant questions, whereas the fortunate side, which comes but rarely, is when you can really be some help to deserving people, which makes life worth living.
Arthur Hind died in March 1933. In his will he directed that his collection should be sold for the benefit of his estate, but his widow maintained that he had made her a present of the 1 cent in his lifetime and that the stamp was not part of the collection. The position was considerably complicated by the fact that nobody had seen it since its return to America in 1932 and it was not reposing in its allotted space in the album.
The state of affairs was ludicrous: two parties, the executors and Mrs. Hind, were claiming possession of a stamp the whereabouts of which were unknown. Urgent requests were sent to European dealers asking if they had the rarity in their possession, but without result. After a further search the 1 cent was found in the registered envelope in which it had been posted back to Hind. He had carelessly thrown the envelope into a drawer in one of his safes.
Matters were thus brought to a head and Mrs. Hind set about the task of establishing her claim to the stamp. A lawsuit followed and after lengthy proceedings she succeeded in satisfying the court that the stamp had been presented to her.
L. Vernon Vaughan wrote about the 1 cent in an article entitled “The Rarest Stamp Once Belonged to Me’ which appeared in Stamp Collectors’ Fortnightly vol 40 p 167 7 July 1934 .
… it is apparently coming into the market again – and the world’s greatest stamp dealers and philatelists are ready to outbid each other and pay ridiculous sums of money for that little scrap of paper that I once owned. Really, it does seem remarkable! People ask me what I feel about it … As a matter of fact, I hardly ever think of it all now and never with disappointment or chagrin. What is the use?
Mr. Vaughan lived all his life in British Guiana, became a leader of the philatelic community there and died in 1949, seventy-six years after having made his find.
In February 1935, Harmer, Rooke & Co. Ltd. were commissioned to sell the stamp in London. After being insured with Lloyd’s for £10,000, the rarity was brought across the Atlantic for the sale. It was submitted to the Expert Committee of the Royal Philatelic Society, London, as was stated by Sir John Wilson in an article entitled “British Guiana: The One Cent of 1856” published in The London Philatelist, vol 60 pp 65-68 May 1951. With prior knowledge of Maurice Burrus’s views, as later expressed in the article in Selection no 3, Sir John in 1935 took “extreme precautions in vetting the specimen”. He attended the studio of Colonel W.R. Mansfield, a frequent expert witness in court cases involving altered documents and “photographs were taken at all different angles and under all the screens and rays relevant to the inquiry”. Further, direct enlargements were made on a large plate and the tablet containing the words ONE CENT. was examined letter by letter under a high-powered microscope. Sir John Wilson’s article was accompanied by an enlarged illustration of the whole stamp and another illustration, measuring no less than eight inches, of the right side showing the value. The stamp had been examined with particular reference to a suggestion that a “Four Cents” label could have been altered to produce “One Cent”. Colonel Mansfield’s opinion was that “no such thing had been done” and clearly Sir John was of opinion that the status of the stamp was settled.
The auction took place on 30 October 1935. The interest which had been evinced at the Ferrary sale was again manifest and the auction-room was filled to capacity. Beside a large number of prominent collectors and dealers, there were present also numerous reporters, photographers and news-reel cameramen.
The bidding opened at £3,500 and after a few preliminaries progressed to £7,500 at which figure the stamp was withdrawn, having failed to reach the reserve placed upon it. The final bid was made by P. L. Pemberton, the London dealer and the son of E. L. Pemberton, who just failed to secure McKinnon’s stamps in 1878.
After 1935, the 1 cent was offered for sale privately in England and America, but was not sold until 1940, when it was disposed of privately through the agency of Finbar Kenny, manager of the stamp department at R. H. Macy Co. in New York. The price paid was reported as having been about $40,000, but the identity of the new owner was one of the best kept secrets in the philatelic world for nearly thirty years.
Sir John Wilson replied in The London Philatelist of May 1951 to the article in Selection no 3 and Maurice Burrus returned to the attack in Selection for October that year. Sir John, in a retort courteous published in The London Philatelist, vol.61 pp.28-30 February 1952 pointed out the weaknesses in the further attack. He concluded by stating that nobody of experience in judging stamps regarded his own opinion as necessarily correct, that the development of mechanical aids to the judging of the faking of stamps was always progressive, that he had not examined the 1 cent with possibly the very latest of inventions and would readily accept the opinion of any qualified expert or expert committee, suitably equipped, on the possibilities of the alteration of the label on the stamp.
There the matter rested. The genuineness of the 1 cent was not again challenged or debated in public. Maurice Burrus died in 1959.
In 1970, the stamp came on the market again and, on 1 April that year, the identity of the purchaser in 1940 became public. There had for years been rumours that the owner was an Australian who had settled in the United States. The rumours were proved to have been well-founded. He was Frederick Small, who had grown up in Rockhampton, Queensland and had served with the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps during World War I and had been invalided out of the forces after being wounded and gassed. Later he had become vice-president of the Celanese Corporation of America in New York and he also represented the Australian Lawn Tennis Association in the United States until he retired in 1956. He had invested in creating several extensive stamp collections including one of British Guiana. That collection, with the exception of the 1 cent, was auctioned by Robson Lowe in London on 26 March 1970.
Two days earlier, the 1 cent of 1856 had been the final lot offered for unreserved auction by Robert A. Siegel at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
The auction room was again crowded with philatelists, journalists and sightseers, but also with television cameras and microphones. The auctioneer was Andrew Levitt. A mail bid of $100,000 was announced. The bidding advanced at first by $20,000 and then in $10,000 steps to previously unprecedented heights. Robson Lowe dropped out at $200,000, Raymond and Roger Weill, of New Orleans remained in the bidding until $250,000, an anonymous dealer from Boston was still in contention at $270,000 but the successful bidder paid $280,000, only some 90 seconds after the opening bid. It had been bought on behalf of a syndicate of eight investors who, according to David Lidman reporting the sale in The New York Times, were “a syndicate of non-stamp collectors (excepting their mentor, Mr. Weinberg, a professional) “.
There can be no doubt, in view of the bidding and the bidders at the auction that the authenticity of the unique British Guiana 1856 1 cent black on magenta had been accepted beyond question.
This was confirmed, if confirmation was needed, in 1980 when Mr. Weinberg, acting on behalf of the nine-man syndicate, put the stamp up for sale by auction – again by Robert A. Siegel in New York. The bidding, which took just 50 seconds, started at $350,000 and the hammer fell at a bid of $850,000 – a record for a stamp. With commission of 10 % the buyer, a private collector whose anonymity has been preserved, had to pay $935,000.
After the sale, Mr. Weinberg, a professional dealer and investor in rare stamps, stated that the syndicate had bought the 1 cent in 1970 as a hedge against inflation. “I think,” he added, “the issue has now been resolved about whether or not it was a good investment”.
From time to time, the discovery of other specimens of the British Guiana 1 cent of 1856 has been reported in the world’s Press, but without exception those claims have proved groundless. The stamp is unique and, as far as philatelists are concerned, always has been.
Or, has it?
In October 1938, the Stamp and Cover Collector’s Review, a well-known American quarterly philatelic journal which ceased publication in October 1939, published a curious letter. There was no editorial comment other than a statement by the editor, Mr. August Dietz, that the letter had come to him anonymously and that it could be inspected at his office. This is the letter:
DEAR MR. DIETZ,
I am torn between the desire to tell you one of the most thrilling experiences of my life and keeping my agreement with Mr. Arthur Hind. I have been thinking about it ever since I saw in the magazines that his famous Guiana stamp was up for auction again. I am an old man, Mr. Dietz, and I lead a quiet retired life with only an occasional automobile trip partly across the country, my days of excitement are long over, yet the excitement that telling my story is giving me makes me think I have no reason to feel guilty about my agreement, since Mr. Hind has passed away and no one will ever know who I am. Perhaps I am indulging in a weakness, the weakness of human nature in wanting somebody to know that ‘I had one too’.
Yes Mr. Dietz, I had one too!
I was subscriber to your Virginia Philatelist around forty years ago, but this letter isn’t going to be postmarked any address that was on your mailing list then, or now, as I am going to post it from some place along my automobile ride. You will understand why. I don’t want to be bothered by people writing to me about this matter which is closed about ten years or so at this writing.
I am an American of English extraction and I have always had a fondness for the British. I began collecting stamps during my years as a cabin boy on a tramp ship and I got to be interested in British Colonials though I can’t say then that I knew much about them. Your Virginia Philatelist which I took after I married and settled down for a spell, first taught me really about stamps.
It was before that when I didn’t know overmuch about them that I was ashore in Georgetown, British Guiana and came into possession of a packet of local letters, some bills and receipts of a real old man. His son and I used to have a friendly drink whenever I came ashore. At that tine I was interested in flowers – collecting seed, etc. for the lady who later became my wife. The old father used to like to walk with me in the botanical gardens in Georgetown and sometimes got me some seed. He was very old and died before the trip when I got his old letters. The son was cleaning out the old desk … dirty and worm-eaten … and he knew I collected stamps so he said he thought his father might like me to have these envelopes, they were no good to him and he was going to burn them if he hadn’t remembered I had asked his father about the stamps. There were only a few stamps on the envelopes, as the old gentleman had, it seemed, delivered most of his bills and collected them, but he was particular at that and they were in envelopes. I didn’t know too much about the stamps and wanted to pay my friend but he laughed at me, so I set him up to drinks. Later, when I knew better, he was dead so there was nothing I could do about it. I mounted the stamps in an album I made myself and that was that.
I gave up the sea and married and put aside my stamps until after my wife died, then I went back to them. That was some years ago. I found an old Virginia Philatelist and found out that you were running another magazine since the old one’s time. I had made good money and quit business so I had time for stamps. I remounted my old sailor-day’s stuff and some of it is pretty good.
One day I read about the Ferrary sale and about Mr. Arthur Hind paying such a price for a One Cent Guiana. I said to myself: ‘D- if I don’t think I’ve got its twin !’ I surely did have it. Mr. Dietz., I’d had it for many years and no idea of its rarity. I just crowed to myself and said nothing. I thought, some day you may need money and you’ll just hold up speaking your piece.
Then I got thinking about it. I figured that Mr. Hind and His late Majesty King George, God rest him (he was still living then), had bid against one another because that was the only One Cent Guiana in existence – magenta, hand-signed. If there had been two, or if they’d have known there was mine, the price would have been less and mine was worth less. Mr. Hind would be mighty upset if mine suddenly turned up. As it was mine had cost me a few rums.
I didn’t know Mr. Hind so I wasn’t bothered by his loss, but I did know that my stamp on the market now or later wasn’t going to bring me more than a third, if that and likely not that! It was one of two things. Either I had to buy his or he had to buy mine and keep the second one quiet.
I had money but not enough to buy Mr. Hind’s stamp at the price he paid for it, unless there was a good chance to sell it and I knew he had to sell it for less with two in existence. There was still His Majesty who might want it.
To make an end of this long letter, I decided to go to see Mr. Hind and we’d figure it out. That was in 1928. I didn’t write him, I drove to Utica and telephoned him from the Hotel Utica. I had to call half a dozen times and then had to stay over another night. I didn’t tell him anything over the phone except that I had a stamp that might interest him. I wanted to see his, I didn’t tell him that and it was a rainy day so I suggested I’d come to him.
I went to his house. I remember it clearly. The house was on a hill and I liked the English name of the street, York Street and some other. He was very pleasant and we went into a big room with many windows. I was excited and meant to lead up gently but instead I burst right out with what I had. He smiled and looked at me as if he was wondering what game I was up to. Then I pulled my album out of the oilskin cover I kept it in and I guess my fingers didn’t tremble any more than his did when he took the albuun in his hands. He got his magnifying glass and studied that stamp. I told him my story as I’ve told you, but I gave him names. My stamp had a tear in it, on the right side. I had carelessly torn it myself taking it off one page to put it on another, many years before. It’s a wonder I kept it then as I didn’t know much about values.
I have never seen a man as quiet with excitement. He went over to a place like a vault built in the wall of that room and got out his stamp, his One Cent Guiana. They were as alike as peas except under the magnifying glass you could see a little difference in the way the pen that the postmaster used had given a little twist and mine had the worst tear. His is a little torn, you know and repaired.
He looked at me and you could hear my heart thumping … I could and I guess he heard his, he was that still with excitement. ‘Well?’ he said.
‘One of us has to own both, that’s the way I figured it’, I said. ‘I can pay … ‘ I offered him the best I could do. Believe me, it was a big sum.
‘If it’s worth that to you, it’s worth twice to me,’ he said. ‘Provided this is never known. Not even my secretary must know of it. In fact, who can say what is happening between us tonight since only the two of us are here? I do not even remember your name. If it’s an agreement, I’ll settle in cash if you will return at this hour tomorrow. I’d rather not give you a check. Can I trust you to return?’
I think I looked honest to him, I had certainly gone to him honestly with the matter. I stayed over another night at the Utica Hotel and returned the next day with my album. Mr. Hind had the money. .. and I tell you I was a little bothered at handling that amount of cash and prayed I wouldn’t be held up on the street. I let him take the stamp out of the album. He held it in his hand and compared it with his again, then he put his away.
I can see him now. He appeared to be beyond middle-age – a heavy-set man. He offered me a cigar. I put it in my pocket. I don’t smoke but I wanted to keep it. It was a stogie. He lighted his and looked at my stamp again, then he held the stamp to the still burning match … Cold chills went down me and I jumped up to grab but the stamp was ashes. It took no more than the bat of an eye to go up in smoke.
‘There’s only one magenta One Cent Guiana’, he said. He smiled. I don’t remember whether I shook hands with Mr. Hind or not, I was that excited. I am still shaky now after ten years when I remember it.
I guess that’s all’.