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British Guiana 1c magenta

The British Guiana 1 magenta is among the rarest of all postage stamps. It was issued in limited numbers in British Guiana (now Guyana) in 1856. It is imperforate, printed in black on magenta paper and features a sailing ship and colony's Latin motto "Damus Petimus Que Vicissim" (We give and expect in return) in the middle. Four thin lines frame the ship. The stamp's country of issue and value in small black upper case lettering in turn surround the frame.

Background

It was part of a series of three definitive stamps issued in that year and was intended for use on local newspapers. The other two stamps, a 4 magenta and 4 blue, were intended for postage.

The issue came through mischance. An anticipated arrival of local stamps never arrived by ship in 1856, so the local postmaster, E.T.E Dalton, authorised a printer, Joseph Baum and William Dallas, who were the publishers of the Official Gazette newspaper in Georgetown, to print out an emergency issue of three stamps. Dalton gave some specifications about the design, but the printer chose to add a boat that was of his own design on the stamp series. Dalton was not pleased with the end result, and as a safeguard against forgery ordered that all correspondence bearing the stamps be autographed by the post office clerks.

Description and history

Only one copy of the 1 stamp is known to exist. It is in used condition and has been cut in an octagonal shape. A signature, in accordance to Dalton's policy, can be seen on the left hand side. Although dirty and heavily postmarked on the upper left hand side, it is nonetheless regarded as priceless.

It was discovered in 1873, by 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy Vernon Vaughan in the Guianan town of Demerara, amongst his uncle's letters. There was no record of it in his stamp catalogue, so he sold it to a collector some weeks later for six shillings. After that, the price escalated. It was purchased by Ferrary in the 1880s for US$750. Arthur Hind bought it at a Ferrary auction in 1922 for over US$30,000 (outbidding King George V among others), and it changed hands in 1970 for $280,000. John E. duPont bought it for $935,000 in 1980, and it is reportedly locked away in a vault while its owner is serving a 30-year sentence for murder.

Controversies

An unsubstantiated rumour developed in the 1920s that a second copy of the stamp had been discovered , and that the then owner of the stamp, Arthur Hind, quietly purchased this second copy and destroyed it.

At one point, controversy broke when it was suggested that the 1 stamp was a "doctored" copy of the magenta 4 stamp of the 1856 series, which was very similar to the 1 stamp in appearance. These claims were disproven.

In 1999, controversy again broke out over the possibility of a second 1c stamp being discovered in Bremen, Germany. This was twice examined and found to be a fake by the London-based Royal Philatelic Society. This specimen had in fact been an altered 4 magenta stamp.