The British Guiana One-Cent Magenta is a singular object. Delicate and wisp-like yet striking in its color, it is the only surviving stamp of a limited run from 1856. Shrouded in more mystery than one might expect of a 26-millimeter-tall stamp, its story brings together an unlikely cast: a twelve-year-old schoolboy; an Austrian nobleman; a textile tycoon and his entrepreneurial widow; a collector who traveled the world with the stamp handcuffed to his wrist; and a convicted murderer who died in prison just four years ago. Rumor has it that a second surviving stamp surfaced in 1938, only to be burned to ash immediately upon purchase.

British Guiana One-Cent Magenta

The mythology of the One-Cent Magenta will evolve yet again on June 17th, 2014. For the third time in its 158-year history, it will become the most valuable object by weight and size ever sold—fetching an estimated $20 million dollars.

When our friends at Sotheby’s invited us to a private viewing of the world’s rarest and most infamous stamp, we knew a collaboration bringing together the oldest and newest postal services could be really special. To celebrate the historic auction, the One-Cent Magenta stamp will be available to Paperless Post users to use on their online mailings for the duration of the exhibition (June 3rd–17th). 

British Guiana One-Cent Magenta

Images from top:

1. The British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp (1856);

2. photo from George W. Bennett’s Illustrated History of British Guiana (1866);

3. Ann Hind Scala (owner 1933–1940) displaying the stamp at the 1940 New York World’s Fair;

4. Irwin Weinberg (owner 1970–1980) traveling with the stamp in a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist and security detail.