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Sotheby's To Auction Rare Stamp That Last Sold For $9.5 Million


A tiny scrap of paper is expected to be auctioned tomorrow for a not-so-tiny sum - $15 million. NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us about the most expensive stamp in the world.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Stamp prices for you and me just went up, but not as much as this.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: On the telephone, that's $7,900,000. Fair warning...

ULABY: At its last Sotheby's auction in 2014, the British Guiana 1 cent black on magenta stamp ultimately sold for 9 1/2 million dollars. The lucky buyer was Stuart Weitzman, the famous purveyor of high-end shoes. The stamp's string of often eccentric former owners include the scion of one of America's richest families, John du Pont, who in 1997, was convicted of murdering a wrestler.

DANIEL PIAZZA: And he owned the stamp the entire time he was in prison.

ULABY: That's Daniel Piazza. He's chief curator for philately at the National Postal Museum. Philately is a fancy word for nerding out on stamps. The Postal Museum displayed the 1 cent magenta a few years ago.

PIAZZA: And it's fairly unremarkable looking.

ULABY: This is the truth. The stamp is a murky dark red, eight-sided and scribbled upon. It's actually kind of underwhelming, admits a fellow stamp nerd named Warachal Eileen Faison.

WARACHAL EILEEN FAISON: Maybe a little underwhelming. I don't - look. I don't want to get kicked out of the philately club for that (laughter).

ULABY: Faison stood in line to see the 1 cent magenta at the World Stamp Show in 2016. It was first issued, she says, during a postal crisis in British Guiana in 1865. Since then, it's been unearthed by a 12-year-old boy, passed through some of the world's greatest collections and was seized by the French in 1920 as reparations from Germany.

FAISON: How remarkable is that, I mean, if you think about it?

ULABY: A remarkable chance, says Faison, to reflect on how many of the ordinary, little things we touch today are also histories in miniature.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.