Stamps have been long established as the first ever piece of tiny paper to truly ever change history for centuries. Also known as philately, Stamp collecting has forever changed the way nations began to regulate and standardize the post. There have been people collecting these little paper squares, and the price of rare vintage stamps continues to rise over time. That said, their transitory nature means most stamps are thrown away without the recipient having given them a second thought. Stamp collectors are always waiting for the rarest of stamps to surface into their own collection. The value of the stamp is outlined by 4 main points, the first being the quality of the image on the face, the second being the perforations along the edge, the third is the denomination or monetary value of the stamp, and the last and final main point is the country of origin, typically depicted on the face of the stamp. The most valuable stamps in the world often feature some kind of blunder or misprint within one of these main components, known as an error. Typically, a stamp error arises from a mixup in the printing plates during pressing. Errors are usually quickly caught and removed from circulation, increasing rarity and value of the affected stamp. In the below list of some of the most valuable stamps in the world, you’ll see many colorful errors that bring whimsy and humor to the field of philately.
Listed in detail below are 5 of the most expensive stamps in the world!
1. British Guiana 1c Magenta, 1856- $9.48 Million
The British Guiana 1c Magenta is the most valuable rare stamp in the world. In 1856, The British Guiana (now the independent nation of Guyana) post office issued the initial run of 1c magenta stamps for use in newspaper circulation. When an expected shipment of the stamps went missing, an emergency run was produced as a stop-gap measure. The printers of this emergency run added a small boat to the stamp, which can be seen faintly on the face of the stamp underneath the signature of postal clerk E.D Wright, distinguishing it from the official stamp run. Only one copy of this emergency print run is known to exist.
The sole surviving copy was first discovered by a young boy in 1873 who sold what would become known as the rarest stamp in the world for six shillings! The stamp quickly rose in value as collectors realized the rarity of the little octagon the boy had stumbled upon. It has since traded hands across the world many times, with shoe designer and collector Stuart Weitzman currently possessing it. The final price of $9.48M made it the most expensive single stamp sale in the world—the fourth time the British Guiana 1c Magenta has broken that record.
2. Treskilling Yellow, 1855- $2.6 Million
The 1855 Treskilling Yellow is a color error of one of the very first stamps issued in Sweden. The three-skilling stamp was usually printed in a blue green, but an unknown printing error led to a batch of yellow stamps briefly being circulated in the 1850s. Only one Treskilling Yellow is known to have survived, though these stamps were printed in sheets of one hundred, leaving many to speculate that there are more waiting to be found
n 2010, Baron Jean-Claude Pierre Ferdinand Gunther Andre and his wife claimed to have stored nine separate Treskilling Yellow stamps in a trunk inside a Clydesdale Bank vault in London. The vault was allegedly broken into and the stamps were stolen, leading the powerful couple to file a lawsuit against the bank. Both philatelists and the court found the claim to be unfounded, but there are some holding on to hope that there’s a Treskilling Yellow stamp fortune hidden somewhere in the world.
The Sicilian Error of Color, 1859- $2.6 Million
The most remarkable thing about the Sicilian Error of Color stamp, other than its immense price point, is how incredibly well preserved it is. Most stamps from the 1800s are naturally worn down from years hiding in boxes waiting to be discovered. However, this stamp featuring the side profile of a bearded man looks as if it was just printed. The stamp was originally printed in yellow but misprinted in a stark blue.
Two copies of the Sicilian Error of Color stamp are known to exist. One of them briefly held the title of world’s most expensive stamp when it was sold at auction by Dreyfus for 2.6 million dollars in 2011, but that title has since been reclaimed by the British Guiana 1c Magenta.
Baden 9 Kreuzer Error, 1851- €1.31 Million
One of the first stamps issued by the former German state of Baden, it is believed the color error was due to a simple misreading on the part of the printer. The green ink plate was intended to be used for the 6 Kreuzer stamp, but the printer likely simply misread the 9 for a 6, resulting in the fourth most expensive stamp in existence.
The Baden 9 Kreuzer Error became known to collectors in 1894 at the philatelic club of Berlin. In attendance at the meeting was Baron von Türckheim who showed the stamp to his father and discovered that he had two copies of the stamp on letters in his possession! This incredible coincidence accounts for half of the known copies in the world.
The Inverted Jenny, 1918- $1.35 Million
Perhaps the most famous rare US Stamp, the Inverted Jenny, with its small print run and fanciful error, has been a golden goose for philatelists for over a century. Unlike other stamps on this list, there are 100 Inverted Jennys in circulation, but the wider availability makes the stamps even more sought after. The Inverted Jenny is a misprint of a 1918 stamp featuring one of the Jenny biplanes first used by the US Post Office to carry mail. The plane on the face of the stamp was accidentally printed upside down.
The US Post Office released several million sheets of Inverted Jenny stamps in 2014 for the 95th anniversary of the misprint. Among the intentionally inverted stamps were 100 non-inverted sheets of stamps, a teasing tribute to the original mistake. The sheets of ‘Upright Jennys’ are collectors items in their own rights, selling for as much as $50,000. However, this publicity stunt did cause some controversy, as the US Post Office is not allowed to intentionally print errors.
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