A penny postage stamp printed in a British colony when Queen Victoria reigned will soon become a digital collectible with fractional ownership available for the first time, its new owner said Tuesday.
Collectible stamp retailer Stanley Gibbons Ltd. purchased the 165-year-old British Guiana One-Cent Magenta for $8.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction on Tuesday.
Although “the underlying technology which we [shall] use is probably not been finalized yet, the concept is to do something … so that a much wider audience can, in theory, have ownership,” said Graham Elliott Shircore, Gibbons’ chief executive.
The publicly-traded company announced it had bought the rare stamp via telephone hookup at the Sotheby’s auction.
Shoe magnate Stuart Weitzman, who bought the Magenta in 2014 for $9.5 million, sold it and two other pieces to raise money for his family’s charitable foundation and other philanthropy.
“[T]oday truly marked the culmination of a life’s work. I’m delighted that the proceeds of the sale will help support a number of charitable causes and educational endeavors that are near and dear to me,” Mr. Weitzman said in a statement released by the auction house.
The Magenta had been expected to fetch $10 million to $15 million at auction. Tuesday’s winning bid of $8.3 million represented a 13% decline from its purchase price in 2014.
Some observers said seven years was too brief an interval for the Magenta to return to the auction block; others faulted Sotheby’s, which lacks a stamp department, and suggested a specialized stamp auctioneer would have brought in more money.
Mr. Weitzman had said previously that his children didn’t want to keep the Magenta or the other two “treasures” in the auction — a 1933 U.S. “Double Eagle” gold coin, the only one in private hands; and a block of four “Inverted Jenny” U.S. airmail stamps, which erroneously show a Curtiss Jenny biplane upside down.
The “Double Eagle” coin sold for just under $18.9 million, beating an estimate of $10 million to $15 million. Its buyer was not disclosed by Sotheby’s.
D.C.-area billionaire philanthropist David M. Rubenstein bought the “Inverted Jenny,” a one-of-a-kind collectible that was released in 1918, for $4.9 million.
The Carlyle Group, the equity management firm co-founded by Mr. Rubenstein, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his plans for the rare stamps. One insider noted that Mr. Rubenstein has “a long history of involvement at the Smithsonian,” the operator of the National Postal Museum.
Mr. Shircore, the Stanley Gibbons executive, said the firm was “obviously happy to become owners” of the Magenta, whose storied past has included eccentric and iconoclastic owners but never a public company. He wouldn’t call the $8.3 million price a “bargain,” but said “it’s worth what someone’s willing to pay on the day” of an auction.
He added that the stamp — which was on display at the National Postal Museum on loan from Mr. Weitzman from June 4, 2015, to Dec. 22, 2019 — will make its way to London shortly and go on display at the firm’s 399 Strand showroom “within a relatively small number of weeks. … The sooner we can make it accessible to a wider audience, the better.”
Now comes the task of devising a digital ownership mechanism — and its execution.
Mr. Shircore said the firm is “very keen to move as quickly as possible. With the one understanding that whatever we offer for our customers, it has to be great. So, I’ve got no interest in doing something next week which leaves people disappointed.”
Don Sundman, a veteran postage stamp dealer whose Mystic Stamp Company in Camden, New York, owned the Inverted Jenny Plate Block from 2005 to 2014.
“I think whoever bought it is going to be very happy in five years, 10 years,” Mr. Sundman said in a telephone interview. “I’m kicking myself that I didn’t sign up to bid. There are plenty of ‘Jennies’ but only one plate block, and the stamp [images] are centered so darned well.”