In 1856, in British Guyana, there was a major communications gap.
A valuable shipment of postage stamps from the mother country, England, had not arrived. There was no way to mail anything to anyone in British Guyana or anywhere else.
This was 52 years before William Beebe established his Tropical Research Station in British Guyana, and wrote “Jungle Peace”, which I recorded as a Listen2Read audiobook.
In 1856, newspapers could not be mailed, bills, payments, and letters were unsent and the country was in a sort of communications standoff, like a broken Internet connection.
To solve this serious problem, the local postmaster in Georgetown, E.E .Dalton, decided to issue his own British Guyana stamps. He turned to the local printers of the newspaper, Official Gazette, to design and print up the stamps. Dalton was displeased with the results and ordered that before each stamp could be used, a clerk in the post office had to personally sign each stamp, called a 1-cent Magenta.
Eventually British Guyana received its shipment of regular stamps from England and the 1-cent Magenta, having served is purpose, slowly disappeared, until there were none left – or so they thought. But as it happened, there was exactly one stamp left, discovered in 1873 in British Guyana by a 12-year-old Scottish boy, looking through his uncle’s letters. The boy sold the stamp to a local stamp collector for six shillings and the price has kept going up and up from one sale to the next.
The last sale of the stamp was in 1980 for $935,000.00. The buyer was John E. du Pont, the great, great grandson of E.I. du Pont, founder of the huge chemical corporation. The 1 cent Magenta British Guyana stamp is considered by many philatelists to be the world’s most valuable stamp, but the stamp has been out of sight, lying in a dark bank vault ever since it was purchased.
Why has the stamp lain hidden for so long? The owner, John E. du Pont, was given a prison sentence of 13 to 30 years in 1997 for the murder of his friend Dave Schultz, an Olympic wrestler, who won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling in the 1984 Summer Olympics. The murder took place at the 800 acre du Pont Foxcatcher Farm Estate. During the trial, du Pont was ruled to have been mentally ill, but not insane. The murder is the subject of an major motion picture, “Foxcatcher,” about to be released this fall, with Steve Carrel as John E. du Pont and Channing Tatum as the murdered man’s brother.
John E. du Pont died in prison four years ago at the age of 72. It was a very sad ending for an interesting and vital man who, unfortunately, suffered from mental illness.
Du Pont and William Beebe, author of “Jungle Peace,” would have had a lot in common had they ever met. Beebe was a famous naturalist and ornithologist, and du Pont was a respected ornithologist credited with the discovery of 24 species of birds. He wrote a number of published books on birds.
Du Pont used part of his great fortune to found the Delaware Museum of Natural History, an organization Beebe would have appreciated.
If you have downloaded and heard “Jungle Peace,” you know that it reveals one surprise after another, as Beebe’s fertile mind presents the world of nature as high drama, always fascinating, sometimes humorous, often an experience of life and death.
Because of John E. du Pont’s death, his entire estate is now being liquidated and the 1 cent Magenta stamp is scheduled to be auctioned in the middle of this month.
What is the estimated new price for the 1-cent stamp?
Somewhere between 10 and 20 million dollars.
We may have been underestimating inflation.