The one-cent magenta stamp of British Guiana can be said to be the rarest stamp in the world because only one copy of this stamp remains. It can also be said to be one of the ugliest stamps.
It is heavily cancelled and has been owned by some famous stamp collectors over the past 100 years. King George V tried to purchase it for the Royal Collection, but someone outbid him. The last owner, a member of the duPont family, is in jail having been convicted of the murder of a friend in the 1990s. He paid $935,000 for it.
Needless to say, it could conceivably bring two million dollars today if offered for sale, but the stamp is in a bank vault awaiting its owner’s return to society.
In September 1847, Lady Gomm, the wife of the Lt. Governor of the British colony of Mauritius, was giving a ball and the two denominations just issued by the colony were used on a cover containing an invitation addressed to Messieurs Ducan & Lurguie in Bordeaux, France.
These were the first stamps issued by a British colony and a watchmaker reported to be partially blind did the engraving. The watchmaker erroneously engraved “Post Office” on the plate for the stamp instead of “Post Paid.” Only 500 copies of the two denominations were printed and so they quickly became rare and famous in stamp collecting circles.
In 1902 when the two denominations were discovered on the cover to Bordeaux, France in reasonably good shape, a young French boy who had read quickly recognized their value about the stamps in a magazine. While copies of the stamp are known in single denominations, this cover is the only one known with both denominations on it. Today its value would probably be close to three quarters of a million dollars.
In the United States, the War Between the States as we Southerners refer to it, caused many stamps of low production numbers to be issued. These are known as provisional stamps since they were issued on short notice before a more permanent issue could be designed and printed.
My own family was involved in a Confederate provisional stamp when my grandfather’s uncle carved a wood block for the Lenoir, N. C. provisional and caused 500 copies to be printed. A copy of this stamp can be seen today in the British Museum along with a handwritten statement by my great-great grandfather, James Harper (father of my grandfather’s uncle) stating that he did not “traffic in these stamps.”
Why he felt it necessary in the 1870s to make such a statement I do not know. If I had a copy of this particular stamp today, it would have a value of probably $12-15,000. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy.
During this period Knoxville, Tennessee’s postmaster, C. H. Charlton issued a very well designed provisional stamp. Only one copy of it on cover is known today and it has a value of approximately $22,000.
More recently, covers that were carried on airships such as the Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg have been of great interest to stamp collectors. In addition to the stamps used on these covers, the routing of this type mail affects the value.
Let’s say a cover was mailed at Lakehurst, N. J. and put aboard the Graf Zeppelin going to South America and then on to Lisbon, Portugal and finally to Berlin. At each of these stops the cover was usually cancelled showing its route to Berlin.
During the 1920s and 1930s there were some well known air ship crashes and mail that survived took on a value of its own. There are collectors who collect only crash mail from this era. The most valuable items in this category would probably be the Hindenburg crash covers.
You may wonder how valuable covers can be found today. If you attend stamp shows in the Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee area there will undoubtly be dealers who will have covers by the box loads. The main thing you need to search for valuable covers is knowledge.
You cannot successfully find fine covers without it. A good way to start acquiring knowledge of covers is to find reference books on the subject at a public or school library. The American Philatelic Society in Bellefontaine, Pa., has an excellent research library and it is possible to check out books from them through your local public library.
Consider also that you don’t necessarily want to restrict your cover collecting to rare covers. You can get a lot of enjoyment out of even inexpensive relatively common covers.
During the 1920s and 1930’s particularly, new airports were being opened all over the country and the post office got in on this by arranging special cancels for these events. A lot of people collect these covers and they are relatively inexpensive. I’m sure that out there is one commemorating the opening date of Frankfort’s airport as well as other area airports.
The institution of air mail routes also produced another collecting opportunity. These would be the first days of air mail service between say Louisville and Chicago or Louisville and Birmingham, Ala., etc., etc.
If you get into some stamp collecting specialty like this, membership in the American Air Mail Society is helpful. They put out an excellent journal that would aid your pursuit of this collecting specialty. They have an annual meeting and they are represented at major stamp shows four to six times a year.
Stamp collecting has many twists and turns as you can see. There are a lot of collectors out there who are more than willing to help new collectors acquire the knowledge and material necessary to fully enjoy any aspect of stamp collecting.
Large amounts of money do not have to be spent in order to enjoy this hobby. Lasting friendships are formed among stamp collectors no matter what their interest and the knowledge acquired in the hobby is enormous.
No wonder stamp collecting is regarded as the “Worlds Greatest Hobby.”