It was a humble piece of paper that was sold for next to nothing in the 1800s, but the British Guiana One-Cent Black on Magenta stamp fetched up nearly $10 million when it was auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York.
Described by Sotheby’s as “the world’s most famous and valuable stamp,” it is also, pound-for-pound and inch-by-inch, the most expensive object by size and weight in the world.
It set a new world auction record for any stamp, achieving $9,480,000 — nearly 1 billion times its original face value.
The stamp, which went into circulation only 16 years after postage stamps were invented, is the only one of its kind still in existence.
It was part of an emergency batch of one-cent and four-cent stamps printed in 1856 by a local newspaper after a shipment from Britain was delayed and the local postmaster was about to run out of supplies.
Its first owner was a 12-year-old boy in British Guiana who found the stamp in 1873 among family papers and sold it to a dealer for six shillings so he could buy more stamps.
The octagonal-shaped piece of paper then passed through the hands of numerous stamp collectors around the world until the late multimillionaire (and convicted murderer) John E. du Pont paid a record $935,000 for it in 1980.
Believed to have been locked in a vault while du Pont was in prison (where he died in 2010), the auction is the British Guiana’s first public appearance in decades.