- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 1999

An American stamp so rare no copy is known to exist has sold for $397,838 in an on-line auction.
The 24-cent stamp is known as Scott No. 164 or the "Lost Continental" and was found by a California man, Eraldo Magazzu of Poway, who purchased 12 boxes of unsorted stamps for $4,800 in 1967.
It has taken him decades to prove to the stamp world that his Lost Continental is rare and valuable. It is anticipated that the stamp's worth could increase greatly if traded again in the next few months.
When Mr. Magazzu took his boxes of stamps home, he found mostly thousands of worthless pieces of colored paper. But he also found a canceled, purplish-blue 24-cent stamp bearing the portrait of Winfield Scott, Mexican War general and Abraham Lincoln's first Civil War commander.
"A national 24-cent stamp printed about 1875, I thought it was," says Mr. Magazzu, an Italian immigrant. "It is a valuable find, listed in the Scott Catalog for a few hundred dollars if in perfect condition."
In the early 1870s, the 24-cent stamp generally was used to send letters to foreign countries. But a June 1875 directive from the Universal Postal Union lowered the rate for many international letters to 5 cents, and the 24-cent stamp was discontinued.
Mr. Magazzu later noticed parallel ridges, indicating ribbed paper, on the back of the Winfield Scott stamp.
Fascinated, he read philatelic books, wrote to the experts, and spoke with fellow collectors. The 24-cent stamp was printed by the Continental Bank Note Co.
"It launched me on a crusade to get the ribbed-paper Continental stamp certified by the Philatelic Foundation, the accepted way to get a rare stamp authenticated. And then to convince the experts that the stamp was important," he said.
Mr. Magazzu, 58, is contractually entitled to $125,000 of the sale price and, after taxes and other expenses, said he may clear $60,000. Though the sale won't make him rich, he said that it legitimizes the stamp he has spent years trying to persuade the world to accept.
"It's a matter of avenging myself," he said. "There's a certain personal satisfaction… ."
Theresa Amos, director of corporate marketing for Boxlot.com, said Thursday the bid appears to be solid and "everything looks very good."
A collection of letters tells the stamp's story. In the first letter, dated Feb. 27, 1978, Mr. Magazzu asked a Midwest stamp expert to examine the stamp. He flew to Ohio to see the expert but was denied any authentication. That rejection set a precedent for the snail's pace of expert involvement.
During the 1980s, Mr. Magazzu's stamp was the subject of scholarly debate. The problem was that a "ribbed-paper 24-cent Continental" was so rare that even though the Scott Albums provided a space for the stamp, the Scott Catalog editors doubted it existed.
"How's that for a Catch-22?" asks Mr. Magazzu. "I hold that stamp in my hand, place it under a microscope, touch the ribbed paper, and still to Scott Catalog editors the stamp does not exist."
Frustrated but more determined than ever, he badgered luminaries of the philatelic fraternity for a hearing. Not until early 1992 were his efforts successful. Finally, the New York-based Philatelic Foundation certified the stamp as genuine. The Scott Catalog followed by giving the stamp a name: "Scott 164."
Mr. Magazzu suspects the reason he has had to fight for recognition is economic.
"In 1998, a New York stamp dealer placed in auction the only 'complete' collection of United States stamps. It would not be considered complete if it lacked my unique discovery. It would have brought less than the $8 million requested," he said.
A second development at the New York auction was the sale of the rare 1-cent "Z Grill" stamp for $935,000. It is called by the seller "America's rarest stamp" with only two known to exist.
"What good is that claim if mine is rarer still?" he asked.
Mr. Magazzu, an office manager for a stamp shop in Escondido, Calif., said the year-2000 edition of the Scott Catalog classifies his stamp as "unique" only one is known to exist.
Jay Tell in nearby La Jolla, Calif., champions Mr. Magazzu's cause, and in articles for stamp publications and in an ad published in Linn's Stamp News, he reminds experts that the Scott No. 164 is rarer than "Z Grill." And since No. 164 has been classified as "unique," no stamp collection without it can be called "complete."
His firm, Americana Stamp and Coin Galleries, put the stamp on the World Wide Web site of Philatelists Online.
"As a professional stamp dealer going back 41 years, this is the single-greatest moment of my entire career," Mr. Tell said. "This is major news, and certainly the last big story of the century in the stamp world."


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