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The 10 highly valued stamps in the world

In 1967, a stamp enthusiast went to his local post office in the north England town of Rochdale to buy a pair of Great Britain stamps. He paid one shilling and nine pence (less than 10 US cents) for a pair that celebrated the invention of the television and featured a silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II.

What he didn’t realise until later was that one of the stamps was missing the queen’s head. It was a lucky purchase. In 2014, he sold the stamp, known as SG 755b, at auction for £23,600 ($36,260).

Although the advent of email has hurt postal mail service in recent years, stamp collecting remains a passionate hobby as well as a valuable business and investment strategy in many countries. Billions of stamps have been issued since the British Penny Black, the world’s first adhesive stamp, debuted in 1840, and many are laced with romance and lore — transporting collectors to exotic destinations, critical moments in history and, for some, elusive future fortunes.

Mauritius postage – two pence

In 2014, the one-cent magenta — an unassuming magenta octagon with handwritten black script released in British Guiana in 1856 — set the record for the most money ever paid for a postage stamp. The sum was $9.5m, nearly a billion times its original penny value.

Though numerous collectors have deep pockets and decades of knowledge, anyone can become a rare stamp aficionado.

And even if you aren’t as lucky as the Rochdale collector, you can quickly become knowledgeable about a range of topics and geographic locations as you build a stamp collection. Knowing what and how to buy is key.

If you think stamp collecting is just for hobbyists and not something a shrewd investor would consider, you may want to think again. Mint condition specimens have appreciated by up to 45.5% over the past 10 years, according to a recent analysis by Forbes, easily beating typical returns on real estate, gold, fine wine and the broad stock market. And the rarest philatelic treasures can sell for millions. Feast your eyes on the 30 most valuable stamps of all time.

The beauty of rare stamps and coins is their complete lack of market correlation, which is driven by the passion of high-end collectors spending money on their hobby.

During the height of the financial crisis in 2008, the GB30 index [which tracks the prices of Britain’s 30 most expensive stamps available on the open market] went up by 38% in one year.

1. British Guiana 1-cent Magenta, 1856

Value: $9,500,000 
Country: U.K.

Printed in black on magenta paper, it features a sailing ship and the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We Give and We Seek in Return). The one-cent issue was intended to be used on local newspapers. Only a single copy has been discovered to date, which is in used condition and cut into an octagonal shape.
It was sold in 2014 to shoe designer Stuart Weitzman for just under $9.5 million (£7.4m).

‘British Guiana One-Cent Magenta’ stamp dating from 1856, on June 2, 2014 in London, England.
The stamp was initially discovered in 1873 by a 12-year old Scottish boy living in British Guiana, South America who sold it to a local stamp collector for several shillings.

2. Penny Black, 1840

Value: $5,000,000 
Country: U.K.

A British cultural icon, the stamp depicted a portrait of Queen Victoria against a black background. It was the first adhesive postage stamp in the world. Only two pieces of the early issue are found today. The 1d Black is the world’s first adhesive postage stamp – as such the 1840 stamp and all of Britain’s subsequent stamps do not include the country’s name.

Rowland Hill is credited with inventing the postage stamp after issuing a pamphlet on postal reform, he described the idea as ‘…a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash’.

‘Treasury Competition’ was run in the lead up to the stamp issue, asking members of the public to design the new labels. None of the designs were deemed good enough and a portrait of Queen Victoria was used.

The authorities also issued a postal stationery lettersheet at the same time as the Penny Black. Called ‘Mulreadys’ after the artist whose illustration was used on them, the sheets were expected to be more popular than stamps, but were widely ridiculed by the public and often mocked by other illustrators. The lettersheets were withdrawn within months.

A reported 68,808,000 copies of the stamp were printed, meaning the Penny Black is not a rare stamp. However, examples in mint condition and with neat margins can command very high prices. The only known complete sheets are owned by the British Postal Museum. Penny Blacks can be highly collectible, with one set of four unused 1840 stamps available on the market for a whopping £140,000, while used versions can still sell for around £870.

With no perforations, each Penny Black stamp was cut from the sheets of 240 using scissors, meaning the margins of each stamp can vary greatly, depending on the dexterity of the postal worker.

The Penny Black went on sale on to the public on 1 May 1840, although it was not valid for use until 6 May, 1840. Despite this, some examples of the Penny Black stamp were used before 6 May; such covers are extremely rare and most desirable.

The letters in the bottom corners of the Penny Black stamp refer to the position of the stamp within the sheet of 240. The very top left stamp in the sheet would have the letters ‘AA’, moving right, the next stamp would have ‘AB’, moving down, the stamp would have ‘BB’ and so on.

The second adhesive postage stamp was the 2d Blue, which followed on 8 May, 1840.

The black ‘Maltese Cross’ cancellation used on the Penny Black stamps proved difficult to see and prompted the introduction of the 1d Penny Red stamp, which replaced the Penny Black in 1841.

The Penny Black was the world’s first postage stamp and Great Britain is the only country to not include the country name in the design. The Penny Black was included in the redesign of the 2016 British Passport.

3. The Two Penny Blue, 1841

Value: $4,000,000
Country: U.K.

Issued after the Penny Black, it depicted Queen Victoria against a blue background. The Two Penny Blue or The Two Pence Blue was the world’s second official postage stamp, produced in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and issued after the Penny Black.

Initial printing took place from 1 May 1840, and in all 6,460,000 were printed from two plates until 29 August. Officially the stamps were valid for postage from 6 May but were only available from 8 May. Except for its denomination, the design is exactly the same as the penny black and was struck from the same die.

The largest known surviving block of the Plate 1 printing of the 1840 Twopenny Blue. In mint condition, the 38-stamp block was purchased by King George V in the 1920s.

4. Benjamin Franklin, 1867

Value: $3,000,000
Country: U.S. 

The Benjamin Franklin Z Grill, or simply “Z-Grill”, is a 1-cent postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in February 1868 depicting Benjamin Franklin. While stamps of this design were the common 1-cent stamps of the 1860s, the Z-Grill is distinguished by having the so-called “Z” variety of a grill pressed into the stamp, creating tiny indentations in the paper. Although the 1-cent Z-Grill is generally cited as the rarest and most valuable of all US postage stamps, the 15-cent Lincoln Z-Grill is just as rare and the 10-cent Washington Z-Grill scarcely less so. All three of these stamps were produced at the same time, along with more common Z-grill versions of the contemporary 2-cent, 3-cent, 5-cent and 12-cent stamps.

The purpose of grilling was to permit the canceling ink to be better absorbed into the stamp paper, thus preventing reuse of stamps by washing out the cancellation marks. The use of grills was found to be impractical and they were gradually discontinued after 1870.

There are currently only two known 1-cent 1868 Z-Grills, both with cancellation marks. One is owned by the New York Public Library as part of the Benjamin Miller Collection. This leaves only a single 1-cent 1868 Z-Grill in private hands.

Late October 2005, Sundman traded his Z-Grill to financier Bill Gross for a block of four Inverted Jenny stamps worth nearly $3 million. By completing this trade Gross became the owner of the only complete collection of U.S. 19th century stamps.

Benjamin Franklin 1¢ – Blue 1,000 – Z Grill – 1867 2 copies still survive

5. The Treskilling Yellow, 1855

Value: €2.6 Million
Country: Sweden

The Treskilling Yellow is considered one of the most expensive postage stamps in the world due to the fact it should be printed in a blue-green colour with the three-skilling print, but it was actually printed in yellow. This Swedish misprinted stamp issued in 1855 is believed to be the only surviving copy to exist, which is why it is worth over €2.1 million. The stamp has been sold more than once, each time climbing with value.

Upon its release, five different stamps were issued including 3 and 8-skilling ones. The three-skilling stamp was green. The eight-skilling one was of yellow-orange color. One day, for unknown reasons, the three-skilling stamp of yellow color was issued. Experts suggest that employees forgot to change the paint and issued a sheet of yellow stamps, which were successfully sold later. Despite the fact that a whole sheet of yellow rare stamps was printed, at present, only one yellow stamp has been found. Therefore, the value of the three-skilling stamp is determined by its color.

This stamp was discovered in 1885 by a young man who saw it among old letters and papers. A year later, he sold it for 7 kronor, which was a large sum of money at that time. The person who acquired the stamp was Heinrich Lichtenstein. He could not determine the authenticity of the item so he decided to ask for expert opinion. Experts confirmed that the stamp was genuine. After that, several people owned the Treskilling Yellow. Finally, in 1894, a well-known collector bought the stamp for $3,000. Since no other Treskilling Yellow stamps were found since 1885, it became clear that this stamp was unique.

The owner of the stamp, Philippe Ferrari died in 1917, and the French government confiscated his collection. Interestingly, his collection was sold in parts despite the will he left. After the death of the stamp owner, its lifecycle became volatile. Here’s what happened to the Treskilling Yellow after Philippe Ferrari died:

• 1992 – The stamp was sold to Baron Eric Leijonhufvud. He bought it for $4,300-$5,000.

• 1923 – Claes A. Tamm acquired the stamp at a price two times greater than the previous one.

• 1928 – Johan Ramberg tracked the lifecycle of the stamp and bought it at an auction. Its price rose to $15,000.

• 1937 – King Carol II acquired the stamp in his collection. The price of the yellow stamp was doubled. The Treskilling Yellow became one of the most expensive stamps ever printed.

• 1950 – Rene Berlingen acquired the three-skilling stamp. The price is still unknown.

• 1971 – The stamp was put up for auction on behalf of the owner for $500,000. Despite the unusual story of the stamp, no one dared to buy it.

• 1974 – A scandal was brewing around the item. The Swedish Postal Museum planned to purchase the unique item for $1,000,000, but during the evaluation experts claimed that the stamp might be fake. A year later, another examination dispelled all the rumors and confirmed the authenticity of the Treskilling Yellow.

• 1978 – Edgar Mohrmann bought the unique stamp. The price was 1 million deutsche mark.

• 1984 – The Treskilling Yellow was acquired by a secret buyer from Scandinavia for almost $500,000.

• 1990 – A successful businessman buys the unique item for $1,3 million. However, the contradictions between the buyer and the seller led to the cancellation of the deal.

• 1996 – The price of the item reached a record value at all the subsequent auctions. A Swedish stamp dealer purchased it for $2,3 million, but again the buyer could not pay for the stamp.

• 1998 – A secret buyer from Copenhagen acquired the yellow stamp. The price has not been disclosed yet.

• 2010 – A group of people bought the Treskilling Yellow for $2,3 million.

• 2012 – A scandal erupted. The Andre family tried to file a lawsuit against a bank, claiming that their Treskilling Yellow stamps (which they allegedly kept there) were missing. Their claim was rejected.

• 2013 – A well-known Swedish politician has bought the unique stamp and continues keeping it in his collection.

The Treskilling Yellow
Count Gustaf Douglas, a Swedish nobleman and politician, bought the unique 1855 error of colour by private treaty in May 2013, and included it in a display to the Royal Philatelic Society London on October 31, 2013.
Douglas, the owner of the firm Securitas, is the 423rd richest person in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

6. The Sicilian Error Of Color Stamp , 1859

Value: €2.6 Million
Country: Italy

The stamp depicting King Ferdinand II is known as the “Error of Color,” because it was mistakenly printed in blue instead of orange. The original exemplar of this stamp was yellow, but a small run of 1859 was released in a blue color for some reason. Today, philatelists know about two exemplars of this stamp existing in the world. It goes down in history as the most expensive Italian postage stamp when it was sold at Galerie Dreyfus’ international stamp auction in Basel to an anonymous US bidder for $2.6Mn in Nov 2011. 

Only two such stamps are known to exist. 

The Sicilian Error Of Color Stamp , 1859

7. The First Two Mauritius, 1847

Value:  € 2,000,000
Country: U.K.

The Mauritius “Post Office” stamps were issued by the British Colony Mauritius in September 1847, in two denominations: an orange-red one penny (1d) and a deep blue two pence (2d). Their name comes from the wording on the stamps reading “Post Office”, which was soon changed in the next issue to “Post Paid”. They are among the rarest postage stamps in the world.
With only 26 known copies known to still exist and being the first British Commonwealth Stamps to be produced outside of Great Britain, it is no wonder that the Mauritius stamps hold a value of over €1 million each.

The words “Post Office” appear in the left panel, but on the following issue in 1848, these words were replaced by “Post Paid”. A legend arose later that the words “Post Office” had been an error.

The sale of two of philately’s most prized items took place in Geneva on Dec. 1, 2016, when the famous Mauritius “Post Office” copper printing plate was hammered down by David Feldman for €1.1 million, and the famous Bombay cover franked with two rare 1-penny “Post Office” Mauritius stamps realized €2 million. The new owners, who remain anonymous, are reported to be private collectors.

Mauritius was the first British Empire territory (outside of Great Britain itself) to issue postage stamps. The tiny Indian Ocean colony was just the seventh country in the entire world to introduce stamps for the prepayment of postage, after Great Britain, Brazil, three Swiss cantons and the United States.

The issue was undertaken locally on the initiative of the governor, Sir William Gomm, who commissioned the engraving of the plate by Joseph Osmond Barnard, an Englishman who was said to have stowed away on a ship to the island in 1838. Just 500 examples were printed before the plate was retired.

Many of the stamps were used up by the governor’s wife for invitations to a ball. Just 27 are thought to have survived. The rare remaining “Post Office” covers are considered among the greatest treasures in all of philately.


The First Two Mauritius Post Office stamps,
Issued in 1847 in Mauritius during the British Colony, these stamps were modelled on the British stamps with an image of Queen Victoria.

Franked with two rare 1847 1-penny “Post Office” Mauritius stamps, the 1850 Bombay cover was auctioned Dec. 1 by David Feldman in Geneva, Switzerland, for more than $2.5 million.

The piece de resistance of the sale was the famous Bombay cover. Discovered in a street market in India in 1895, the cover bears two large-margined examples of the 1d “Post Office” stamp, tied by barred cancels on a cover addressed to Bombay.

The cover was bought by Raymond Weill in H.R. Harmer’s 1968 sale of the Dale-Lichtenstein collection for $380,000, then a world-record price for any philatelic item.

It had changed hands only privately since then, and had been exhibited at the Interphil exhibition in Philadelphia in 1976, where its contents, a letter about a shipment of scriptures to the island, were revealed for the first time. The cover has now gone to a new owner for $2,548,000. 

8. The Whole Country Is Red, 1968

Value: $2,000,000
Country: China

The Whole Country is Red is the most wanted stamp in the burgeoning Chinese philately market, which has helped to raise the price to a seven-figure sum in recent years. It is the most expensive stamp ever have sold in China, beating a record set in 2012 of 7.3 million Chinese Yuan by the sale of another Big Red stamp. 

The Whole Country is Red is a Chinese postage stamp, issued on 24 November 1968
during Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the stamp features an image of China in red , which contained a design error. The stamp featured a map of China with the words “The Whole Country is Red” , with a worker, farmer, and soldier standing below with copies of Quotations from Chairman Mao. The face value of the stamp is 8 fen.

The stamp features Communist slogans such as “Long live the total victory of the Cultural Revolution without the bourgeoisie” and “All mountains and rivers across the country are a sea of red”.

There are only nine of them remaining in circulation. It was issued by the Communist Government to celebrate the “full victory of the Great Proletarian Culture Revolution” and the establishment of 29 Revolutionary Committees across China.

Taiwan was not shaded red as at the time of printing, it was under the control of the Republic of China instead of the PRC. The official reason given for the withdrawal of the stamp was that the Spratly and Paracel Islands were missing from the map, as well as the borders with Mongolia, Bhutan, and Myanmar being incorrectly drawn. The stamp had been distributed for less than half a day when an editor at SinoMaps Press noticed the mistake and reported it to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. As a result, all Chinese post offices had to stop selling the stamp and return all copies, with only a small quantity making it to private collectors.[ The designer of the stamp, Wang Weisheng, said in an AFP interview, “For a long time I was really worried that I would be jailed”.

9. Baden 9 Kreuzer Error Stamp, 1851

Value: $1,545,000 
Country: Germany

The Baden 9 Kreuzer Error is a postage stamp error produced by the historical German state of Baden in 1851. Baden’s first postage stamps were issued on 1 May 1851. The “9 Kreuzer Green” stamp was a color misprint of the 9 Kreuzer denomination that was printed in green instead of pink. Green color was planned to use while making 6 Kreuzer stamps. The 9 Kreuzer error was not discovered until 44 years after the stamp was issued. Two letters initially were in the collection of Baron von Türckheim.

Only 4 copies of Baden 9 Kreuzer Error are known to exist. The only one of them is unused and it was auctioned on April 3, 2008 for 1,314,500 euro by David Feldman.

10. Inverted Jenny, 1918

Value: $1,350,000
Country: U.S. 

The Inverted Jenny is a 24 cent United States postage stamp first issued on May 10, 1918 in which the image of the Curtiss JN-4 airplane in the center of the design is printed upside-down; it is probably the most famous error in American philately. Only 100 copies managed to make it through printing, which is why the Inverted Jenny is valued so highly.

Initial deliveries went to post offices on Monday, May 13, 1918. Aware of the potential for inverts, a number of collectors went to their local post offices to buy the new stamps and keep an eye out for errors. Collector William T. Robey was one of those; he had written to a friend on May 10 mentioning that “it would pay to be on the lookout for inverts”. On May 14, Robey went to the post office to buy the new stamps, and as he wrote later, when the clerk brought out a sheet of inverts, “my heart stood still”. He paid for the sheet, and asked to see more, but the remainder of the sheets were normal.

In a 2016 auction in New York City, one of the stamps sold for a whopping $1.35 million. The Jenny invert is so famous in the philatelic community—and the general public as well—that the complete history of all sales have been publicly documented.

There are numerous publications and memorabilia dedicated to this historic stamp. a good reference to start with would be a published articles call the Books of the Times.

The U.S. Postal Service on September 22, 2013 issued The Inverted Jenny souvenir sheet featuring a new version of perhaps the most famous error in the history of U.S. The sheet includes six Inverted Jenny stamps, reprinted with an updated denomination and surrounded by an illustration that includes the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.; the route of the first regularly scheduled airmail service between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York; and aviation pioneer Reuben H. Fleet, who was in charge of the first group of airmail pilots. The intaglio printing plates for the new stamps were created using proofs made in 2013 from the original Inverted Jenny dies. Issued to commemorate the start of the first regular airmail service in the United States, the original Jenny stamp was designed to show a Curtiss JN-4H, or “Jenny,” the biplane used to deliver the mail.

The Inverted Jenny celebrated its 100 years milestone last year. U.S. Postal Service began the celebration of the 100th anniversary of U.S. scheduled airmail service by issuing a U.S. Airmail Anniversary stamp in Washington, D.C. The nondenominated (50¢) horizontal blue forever stamp shows a Curtiss JN-4H “Jenny” biplane similar to the first planes used by U.S. Army pilots to move the mail by air. A curved banner across the top reads “United States,” while a second banner along the bottom reads “Air Mail.” A ribbon inscribed “Est. 1918” is positioned just below the vignette, which shows the front of the Jenny biplane with its propeller turning.

1 Sheet of 6 Inverted Jenny officially issued USPS Unused Fresh Bright US Postage Stamps – 2013

Author: kheyati I am an avid philatelist, I focus on global miniatures & souvenir stamps. Happy to help enthusiasts!

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