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One-Cent Magenta stamp, the most valuable object in the world

Story of one-cent stamp worth $9.5M
The story behind the One-Cent Magenta stamp worth $9.5M 06:46

The One-Cent Magenta stamp has been hidden from view for a significant part of its more than 150-year history. Thanks to luxury shoe designer Stuart Weitzman, however, the stamp is now on display for all to see at the National Postal Museum.


Sold a few years ago for $9.5 million —almost one billion times its face value — the stamp’s rich and colorful history is chronicled in a new book by New York Times reporter James Barron. It’s also the only British colonial stamp Queen Elizabeth does not own, reports CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford. 

The little stamp called the One-Cent Magenta is so precious that when you account for size and weight, it’s said to be the most valuable object in the world.

The One-Cent Magenta was printed in the former colony of British Guiana in South America more than 150 years ago. Only a small number were ever made. Barron said it was all but forgotten until a 12-year-old boy discovered one of the stamps in his uncle’s basement in 1873.

“Why care about a stamp?” Crawford asked him.

“It’s history. It’s a way of seeing how the world was connected. It’s a way of thinking about how people are connected,” Barron said.

The lone surviving One-Cent Magenta stamp has also connected a handful of people who have spent fortunes to own it—including an American chemical company heir and now the famous designer Stuart Weitzman.

In 1952, when Weitzman was 10 years old, he learned about the stamp from none other than Donald Duck. In a comic book, which now also is at the Smithsonian, Donald Duck launches one of his get-rich-quick schemes — a hunt for the One-Cent Magenta.

“He goes to the jungles of British Guiana to try to find this relic. And I don’t know how it ended up, but obviously, I got the stamp and he didn’t,” Weitzman said.

Weitzman grew up collecting stamps in Queens, New York. But his stamp book had one prominent hole: a spot for the One-Cent Magenta.

“I loved geography,” Weitzman said, “so it provided a bit of an education. A lot of fun. It was a childhood thing. You know, I eventually gave it up.”

“You thought you gave it up,” Crawford said.

“Well, yeah. I discovered girls. That was the end of the stamps,” Weitzman said.

That is, until the stamp’s previous owner John E. du Pont died in jail. Du Pont, the heir to the chemical fortune, who was portrayed by Steve Carell in the movie “Foxcatcher,” was imprisoned for the third-degree murder of a gold-medal wrestler.

According to Barron, du Pont even tried to use this stamp as his “get out of jail free” card.

“One of the things he thought was if some museum could put in a good word, could arrange a pardon, he’d let that museum have it,” Barron said.

“But that was a non-starter? He wasn’t gonna get out of jail with this stamp,” Crawford asked.

“No. No. Didn’t happen,” Barron said.

Instead, in 2014 it went to auction, and Weitzman, who later would sell his shoe empire to Coach for half a billion dollars, bought it so the world could see this one-of-a-kind treasure.

But first, he had to get it to the Smithsonian.

“You know how I brought the stamp to Washington?” Weitzman asked.

“No, how?” Crawford responded.

“In my sock,” Weitzman said. “Where else was I gonna put it?”

He didn’t shave for two days and dressed like a “vagabond,” he said.

“It’s been described by an expert as the ugliest stamp he has ever seen. $9.5 million you paid for it,” Crawford said.

“I would like to see what art he appreciates,” Weitzman said.

“Because it’s not about how it looks?” Crawford asked.

“No. It shouldn’t even be judged that way. So his attention is on the wrong characteristic of that stamp,” Weitzman said. “It is one of a kind, what else could it be? And it was hidden for 150 years.”

The Smithsonian exhibit is the most publicly accessible the One-Cent Magenta has ever been. But this transcends stamp collecting for Weitzman. He appreciates one-of-a-kind things, like his cognac spectator pumps signed by the 1941 Yankees. Then there is Weitzman’s childhood stamp album.

“I have said this to anybody who ever asked me about what was one of the things I got most out of my childhood toys and games and sports or hobbies. I learned history from this book,” Weitzman said.

His childhood quest some 60 years in the making is now complete. The One-Cent Magenta will be at the National Postal Museum until November. Then Weitzman will have to decide what to do with it.

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