Remarkable story of the £12m stamp owned by a millionaire murderer that is about to become one of the most expensive objects ever sold...

A rare one-cent magenta postage stamp last owned by murderer John du Pont is going on sale and is expected to fetch £12m

When it goes on sale in New York this June, a rare one-cent magenta postage stamp, printed in British Guiana in 1856, and most recently owned by the estate of murderer John du Pont, will be the most valuable object by weight and size ever sold.

Just an inch wide, dirty, and heavily postmarked, the stamp, which is regarded as the “holy grail” of collecting, is expected to fetch £12m at auction; nearly ten times the current record value for a stamp.

The sale will be the culmination of a bizarre journey, begun in British Guiana in 1856 and featuring most recently a multimillionaire murderer imprisoned for killing an Olympic champion wrestler.

This rarest of stamps is being sold by the estate of the late John du Pont, who died aged 72 in a Pennsylvania prison in 2010 where he was serving a sentence for the 1996 shooting of wrestler David Schultz.

 

The 'British Guiana One-Cent Stamp' is seen at the Sotheby's gallery in New York, February 14, 2014. The 'British Guiana One-Cent Stamp' is seen at the Sotheby's gallery in New York, February 14, 2014.

The stamp has since been re-authenticated by the Royal Philatelic Society of London and is the only one of its kind known to exist.

"It is one inch by one and a quarter inches, it's tiny and when it sells it will be the most valuable object by weight and size ever sold," David Redden, Sotheby's vice chairman and director of special projects, told Reuters.

"Our estimate on this stamp is $10m to $20m (£6.06m - £12.13m). That seems like an awful lot, but in the great scheme of things, across the entire collecting world, the most extraordinary objects in every field, that price suddenly becomes a little modest."

Chris Harman, chairman of the Philatelic Society's expert committee, said the stamp printed in what is now called the Republic of Guyana was without peer.

"It's one of the first stamps in the world, 1856, British Guiana was one of the first countries in the world to issue their stamps, and this was a locally printed stamp, of which there are very few four-cent, and there's only one one-cent, so it has gained this iconic status," he said.

The stamp was printed in British Guiana in 1856 after a shipment of stamps from England was delayed, which threatened a disruption of postal service throughout the colony.

The sole-surviving example of the one-cent was first rediscovered not far from where it was initially purchased.

In 1873, L. Vernon Vaughan, a 12-year-old Scottish schoolboy living with his family in British Guiana, found the stamp among a group of family papers bearing many British Guiana issues.

A budding stamp collector, Vaughan added it to his album and later sold the stamp to another collector in British Guiana.

The one-cent entered Britain in 1878, and shortly after, it was purchased by Count Philippe la Renotiere von Ferrary, one of the greatest stamp collectors in history.

France seized his collection, which had been donated to the Post Museum in Berlin, as part of the war reparations due from Germany, and sold the stamp in 1922.

It changed hands several times after that before du Pont, an avid philatelist, paid $935,000 for the stamp in a 1980 auction, marking its most recent record-setting price.

"I don't think any of us will probably see it again in our lives, and so that is a milestone," Harman said.

Additional reporting by Reuters.

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