Postage stamps are repositories of history. They give a unique perspective into the history of its period and place. Philately, the hobby of collecting stamps, is known as the ‘Mother of Hobbies’. Either due to some errors or other specialties, some of the stamps have acquired super star status among their kind. These stamps are held in high regard by the collectors and are estimated to be worth millions. Here is a list of 10 of the most valuable and rarest postage stamps in history.
10. Basel Dove
The Basel Dove is a stamp issued by the canton of Basel in Switzerland, on 1 July 1845. It was the first tricolor stamp in the world and had a face value of 2.5 rappen. Basel was one of the only three Swiss cantons to print postal stamps. The Basel Dove, depicting a white dove carrying a letter in its beak, was designed by architect Melchior Berri. It sported the colours black, crimson and blue. Around 42,000 stamps were printed in the series until it was withdrawn in 1854. A Basel Dove stamp is now worth around $20,000.
9. Penny Black
The Penny Black was the first adhesive postage stamp in the world, introduced by Britain. The person who was behind the idea, Rowland Hill, is known as the ‘father of postal stamps’. It features the profile of the British Queen Victoria. The stamp gets its name from both the colour and value of it. First issued in 1840, it was withdrawn in a year because the cancellation mark was difficult to spot in the black background. The stamps of this series are very hard to find, and are estimated to be worthy of around $3000. A number of unused sheets of these stamps are kept at British Postal Museum.
8. The Whole Country is Red
This Chinese stamp was issued in 1968, during the Cultural Revolution. With a face value of 8 fen, it was noted for its printing error. The stamp was conceived to represent the expansion of Communism in China. Designed by Wang Weisheng, it featured the map of China in red colour and the picture of a worker, a farmer and a soldier holding the copies of ‘Selected Works of Chairman Mao’ (Little Red Book). However, the map of Taiwan, which was controlled by China, was not red, but white. An editor from SinoMaps Press noticed the error by afternoon of the issue date and the stamps were immediately recalled, though a few went to the collectors. They are among the rarest postage stamps now.
7. The Hawaiian Missionaries
Issued by the then Kingdom of Hawaii in 1851, these are amongst the rarest postage stamps in the world. The stamps were in three denominations; 2 cents, 5 cents and 13 cents. They went on to be known as ‘Missionaries’ because most of them were discovered on the correspondence between Missionaries working in Hawaii. All of the stamps were made on blue paper of cheap quality. The design consisted of the numeral of denomination in the center and the denomination in words at the bottom. The phrase ‘Hawaiian / Postage’ were inscribed on 2 and 5-cent stamps while ‘H.I. & U.S / Postage’ was printed on the 13-cent stamps. The 2-cent version is the rarest among the three, with only 15 of them existing.
6. Tyrian Plum
The Edward VII Tyrian Plum is one of the rarest postage stamps from Britain. It was issued in 1910 to replacement the existing two-colour two-pence stamp bearing the profile of King Edward VII. The new stamp, with face value of two pence, also featured the king. In total, 24 million stamps were printed but following the unexpected demise of the king in May that year, almost all of the stamps were destroyed. A few stamps exist though their actual number is not known. The only known used stamp is in the Royal Philatelic Collection.
5. Canada 12-pence Black
Also known as the Black Empress of Canada, this stamp was issued in 1851 and is one of the rarest now. The stamp depicts the profile of Queen Victoria, based on the Queen’s portrait drawn by Alfred Edward Chalon. This design is called Chalon Head. Even though more than fifty-thousand copies were printed, a small number of the stamps were sold. In 1857, the unsold stamps were withdrawn and destroyed. It is believed that only a little more than 100 stamps of this kind exist now. One stamp is estimated to be worth about $5, 00,000.
4. Inverted Jenny
Also known as Upside Down Jenny, The Inverted Jenny is a United States postage stamp with a face value of 24 cents. It was first issued on 10 May 1918. Also, it is a printing error that makes this one of the rarest postage stamps in the world. It features the image of the Curtiss JN-4 airplane upside-down. It is believed that only 100 stamps with the error exist now. Even though at least three more sheets had been printed with the error, they all were found and destroyed. A single Inverted Jenny stamp was sold for $977,500 at an auction in 2007.
3. Mauritius ‘Post Office’
These stamps were issued in Mauritius in September 1847, when it was a British colony.
The stamps were of two denominations; one penny with the colour of orange-red and two pence of dark blue. The stamp was modeled after the erstwhile British stamps, featuring the profile of Queen Victoria. The words Post Office were printed on them, from what the stamp take its name. It was changed to ‘Post Paid’ from the next series. A legend has originated that the wording was an error, but philatelic scholars confirm that it was not. The stamps were brought to attention of collectors by a merchant’s wife in 1864. Only 26 specimens of the stamp are existing now. They are valued at around $4 million.
2. Treskilling Yellow
The second place in the list of rarest postage stamps is occupied by a Swedish stamp named Treskilling Yellow, issued in 1855. This stamp once held the world record for the highest price for a single postage stamp in auction. It was sold in a 1996 auction for $2.3 million. In an auction in 2010, it was resold, though the exact price is not public knowledge. The stamp is the only one of its kind. Its fame comes from a printing error. The three-skilling stamps were printed in blue-green and eight-skilling ones were in yellow. By mistake, a number of three-skilling stamps were printed in yellow. The only known surviving one was discovered by a schoolboy and philatelist named Georg Wilhelm Baeckman in 1886, while going through his grandparents’ attic.
1. British Guiana 1c Magenta
A stamp that fetched $9.5 million in a 2014 auction the British Guiana 1c magenta is considered the most valuable and rarest stamp in the world. Only one of its type exists now, which is used and cut in the shape of an octagon. The stamp was issued in limited numbers in 1856 by former British Guiana. It features a sailing ship along with the colony’s motto ‘Damus Petimus Que Vicissim’ (We give and expect in return). It was discovered in 1873 by a Scottish schoolboy named Louis Vernon Vaughan among his uncle’s letters. The stamp has been mentioned in various films as a prized object.