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Stamp sells for record US$9.5 mil. in New York

NEW YORK -- An incredibly rare 19th century postage stamp, a tiny one-cent magenta from British colonial Guyana, sold for a world record US$9.5 million at a New York auction on Tuesday.

It took just two minutes for an anonymous collector on the phone to seal the deal after quick-fire bidding opened at US$4.5 million in a packed room at Sotheby's in Manhattan.

The auction house had valued the tiny specimen of British colonial memorabilia at US$10-20 million, an estimate which it said was vindicated by the sale price.

“The stamp has just sold for approximately US$9.5 million, which means it has set a new world record price for a stamp,” announced David Redden, the auctioneer and Sotheby's director of special projects.

The previous auction record for a single stamp was US$2.2 million, set by the Treskilling Yellow in 1996.

Made in 1856 in Guyana and measuring just one by 1.25 inches (2.54 by 3.18 centimeters), the stamp is octagonal, printed in black ink and bears the initials of its past owners on the back.

Redden told AFP that the one-cent magenta has a “wonderful aura” which made it “almost the Mona Lisa of stamps.”

He said he “did not know” whether the new owner would add their own initials to the back.

Encased in glass, the stamp dates back more than 150 years and has passed through great collections, now breaking a world record price four times since 1922.

Last bought by convicted murderer and American multi-millionaire John du Pont in 1980, it was last seen in public in 1986, before going on display at Sotheby's in the build-up to Tuesday's sale.

The auction house says the stamp is the only surviving example of a one-cent magenta, so rare that it is missing even from the British royal family's philatelic collection.

'A tiny piece of paper'

“This is the most expensive object in the world by weight,” Redden told AFP, marveling that it's “ just a tiny piece of paper.”

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David Redden, Sotheby's vice chairman, holds the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta after it sold for US$9,480,000 (with buyers' premium) at Sotheby's in New York on Tuesday, June 17. (AFP)

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