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The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World

3.7  ·  Rating details ·  201 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
An inside look at the obsessive, secretive, and often bizarre world of high-profile stamp collecting, told through the journey of the world’s most sought-after stamp.
When it was issued in 1856, it cost a penny. In 2014, this tiny square of faded red paper sold at Sotheby’s for nearly $9.5 million, the largest amount ever paid for a postage stamp at auction. Through the
Hardcover, 276 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by Algonquin Books
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Ron non-fiction told in the style one might read in a magazine piece.
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Dec 16, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting look into "Stamp World", the world of philately. We are given a short history of this unique stamp--the 1856 one-cent "provisional" magenta stamp from British Guinea [now Guyana]. A provisional stamp means it is a substitute for the real thing, printed by, say, a newspaper, because the postmaster was afraid a shipment of genuine stamps would not arrive from the mother country. We follow the trail of the eccentrics who owned the stamp through the years to today. It is worth now nearly ...more
Beth Withers
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was one of those many kids who started collecting stamps, and while I have not pursued collecting any further, it still fascinates me. I actually had not heard of the one cent magenta (although I knew about the inverted jenny), but the book cover indicated that this stamp is the most valuable one in the world, so I had to read about it. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had no idea that the world of high dollar stamp collecting was so involved. While I enjoyed reading about the one cent magent ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
I began this book with a fair bit of anticipation. Like many people I collected stamps when I was younger, and like many people you never quite get over those early loves of life. Stamps interest me. This book, unfortunately, came with a rough start; The author's style of telling the story in his imaginary "Stamp World" put me off from the first page - perseverance will reward the reader with some interesting history if you don't get too bothered by the odd writing quirks which mostly recede aft ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I did a little philateling in my younger days and I'm always looking for off-beat books to read (as you can tell, I'm more of a fan of fiction). I'd never heard of the one-cent magenta and so I scooped it up. A quick read with enough background information on the whole subject of Stamp World to bring me up to speed without bogging the story down. Because to me, even with non-fiction, it's all about the story. Barron traces the life cycle of the most valuable stamp in the world from its beginning ...more
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: in-collection
"Philatelist" - a stamp collector. Learn a new word and delve into the intriguing micro-world of stamps.

This endeavor by James Barron, a New York Times reporter, is the biography of a stamp, the "One -Cent Magenta", which was issued in British Guiana in 1856. It is the rarest stamp in the world, as there is known to be only one. We learn about the owners, about some of the great stamp collections of the world, and about Sotheby's where this single stamp sold to Stuart Weitzman (and yes it is th
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a fun, breezy, and well - researched account of the remarkable story of the most valuable stamp in the world: a dingy, somewhat beat up and corner-clipped reddish bit of paper printed in British Guiana in 1856. New York Times reporter James Barron has turned this into quite a romp, immersing us into the eccentric characters of the "Stamp World." He traces the various owners of the stamp, which initially sold for 6 shillings in 1873, and at last sale in 2014 went for $9.5 million, sold to ...more
Katharine Coggeshall
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredible book! This is an excellent non-fiction selection that weaves a tale of philately about the most famous and most expensive stamp in the world. The author uses such intelligent research along with expert story-telling to keep the reader engaged throughout. I learned, laughed, and shook my head in agreement along the way. I plan to give this as a gift to my father for his birthday, and I highly recommend it for all.
January Gray
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not everyone's cup of tea, I am sure, but I really enjoyed it. I collect stamps so I found this story very interesting.
Sarah Beth
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it
I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway.

This work of non-fiction gives an inside look at stamp-collecting through the lens of the history of the world's most valuable stamp. The only known existing copy of the one-cent magenta was issued in 1856 in then British Guiana as a provisional measure; a shipment of official stamps from London did not arrive. Not a particularly well produced or attractive specimen, most copies of the stamp seem to have been thrown out exc
Virginia Beam
Stamp collecting--or philately, as this book taught me it is properly called--isn't on the same level as a woman compulsively drinking paint on a TLC reality show, but the spectator appeal is similar. You can't exactly relate to the behavior you're watching, but it's a strange rabbit-hole that becomes increasingly sympathetic the longer that you observe it, and it makes you feel better about your own choices. The One-Cent Magenta, a breezy, pleasantly readable micro-history, introduces us to a l ...more
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Today’s Nonfiction post is on The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World by James T. Barron. It is 276 pages long and is published by Algonquin Books. The cover has in the center a blank white sheet cut out like a stamp with picture behind like, scenes from the life of the stamp. The intended reader is someone who is interested in stamp history. There is no foul language, no sex, and no violence in this book. There Be Spoilers Ahead.

From the back of the bo
Zohar -
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World by James Barron in a non-fiction book which takes a look at the world most valuable stamp and the obsessive world of stamp collecting. Mr. Barron is a reporter for the New York Times.

The title references the provisional stamp printed in British Guiana when a shipment of stamps from Great Britain was delayed. Supposedly there is only one of those stamps in the world, and despite the one cent cover price it recently
Feb 05, 2018 rated it liked it
A stamp’s journey, but not its adventure

Can a little half-inch-square piece of scrap paper give our lives meaning and value?

This is the biography of a throw-away stamp that has been become gram-for-gram one of the most expensive objects in the world. Who are the people and the institutions that made it that way? The kings, billionaires, investors, and people who made an everyday postage stamp into the extraordinary. This is a compelling and fascinating story.

I think the author could have elevate
Carla JFCL
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My secret is out......

Yes, I’m a lifelong stamp collecting nerd; I also love history. With that combination there’s really no way I could NOT love this book. Because I - like probably like most even half-serious stamp collectors - seem to have always had an “awareness” of the one-cent magenta, I was at least passingly familiar with the subject of this book going in. But, the book is about so much more: travel; youth; royalty; competition;’s not “just a stamp” here.

I doubt it’s ne
I care next to nothing about stamp collecting, but there are few things I enjoy more than a good microhistory, and this exploration of the provenance of the most valuable stamp in the world succeeds on every level. Or at least it does in the audio version read by Jonathan Yen. He clearly loves his narrative assignment and makes the most of the quirky characters and all the humor Barron supplies in this fascinating tale of the single 1856 one-cent stamp printed in British Guiana that has survived ...more
Jennifer Hook
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I received this book in a goodreads giveaway. I am by no means a serious collector of anything but the synopsis of this book sounded intriguing and it was far better than I was even expecting! It is rich with history, not only about the one-cent magenta, but quite an array of history stemming from the topics surrounding, which came up in the tale and journey of this stamp. I found myself reading outloud several segments to my fiance who also found the excerpts just as interesting and informative ...more
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
British Guiana, 1856: the shipment of postage stamps was late but the newspapers needed to be sent. The local postmaster printed up a temporary stamp. Most likely he printed several, but very soon there was just one. James Barron tells us the story of that stamp and its subsequent owners wh0 paid 6 shillings in 1873; 120 pounds in 1878; $32,500 in 1932; $286,000 in 1970; $935,000 in 1980; and $9.5m in 2014.

Many kids had stamp collections but few became caught up in Stamp World, the 150-year-old
Brett Francis
May 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I agree with another reviewer that the structure of this was a little hard to follow at times. Barron tends to flit back and forth between anecdotes and a huge collection of names in ways that sometimes I wasn't sure who was speaking, and where in time or location. But the prose itself was well written, and the story was interesting. I lost a bit of interest toward the end, after it all kind of blended together into just another kooky stamp collector / rich man with a collection fetish. But in t ...more
Sep 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
If you are a stamp collector, you will find this quite interesting. Although the entire text is very "name" heavy...lots of players regarding the history of this stamp...from owners, to scholars, to lawyers, etc. the book is compelling enough to finish. Once duPont purchases the stamp I could at least make some personal connections because I know something of his story and of his family's story...they once owned James Madison's home...Montpelier. (I already knew that...hahaha) I learned somethin ...more
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: r-ng
What is it about a not-very-pretty-looking piece of paper not even an inch in size that could make it worth almost $9.5 million? I know very little about the hobby or business of stamp collecting, but even I recognize some of the names who have played a role in the history of The One-Cent Magenta. The book by journalist James Barron tells the journey of this stamp and the story of each of its owners in a light, easy to read narrative, that is almost gossipy in tone.

Read my complete review at htt
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I was always wondered why the one-cent magenta was considered the most unique stamp of its kind and the author, James Barron gives a thorough history of this one-of-a-kind stamp that has circulated the world through several buyers and philatelic exhibits. It was amazing to learn how this simple stamp, whose original cost was one cent, would grow in value throughout the years finally bought for almost $9.5 million at a New York auction in 2014. Presently the stamp can be seen at the National Post ...more
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely riveting! You do not need to be a stamp collector to be sucked into the history of this one-of-a-kind stamp. Along the way you'll meet a wide rage of characters who either owned or wanted to own this rarity. You'll travel to London to the Royal Philatelic Society as well as meet collectors and experts from around the world as a timeline of ownership takes place.

This book will appeal to fans of The Billionaire's Vinegar as well as anyone who has dreamt buying something at a flea marke
Virginia Van
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The 1856 One Cent Magenta from the British Guiana is the rarest, most valuable stamp in the world. Discovered by a twelve year old boy in his uncle's basement it has been owned by millionaires and a murder. sold at auction and fought over, boasted about and hidden away. Barron's account of its history is amusing and fast paced, of interest even to someone who has done nothing more with stamps than stick them a letter.
May 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a philatelist or just curious to know the world of stamps. Specifically, how the one-cent magenta printed in the 19th century in the British colony of British Guiana became so famous and valuable. The book was not written like a news article as much as some books tend to be if written by reporters. It just takes you along for the ride.
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
The history of this singular stamp's owners was interesting - in particular, the various motivations people have for owning the most valuable stamp in the world. However, I think it would have been better served as a long magazine piece and seemed padded to book length with random asides.
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
James Barron has written this book with the enthusiasm and excitement that I always experience when collecting things - stamps, coins, books, postcards, etc... I actually saw the one cent magenta at FIPEX in 1956 and its image has never left my mind. Definite a good read for the philatelist.
Jeanne Grace
Jan 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Thank you Algonquin Books and Goodreads giveaway for picking me as one of the winners. I liked the book. The first half of the book seemed disjointed and choppy, it took me forever to get through. The second half flowed, which was a pleasure to read.
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fun little book walking through the story of a stamp - the one cent magenta. It is a nice read about all the people who owned that stamp and why they did it - love for stamp collecting, investment, pride etc. Makes you think about why things are valuable.
John Lester
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only encounter with stamps is placing them on an envelope hoping the "forever" self sticker will stick, it's in the correct corner, and the image correctly oriented. Usually the process ends in a face plant.
The One-Cent Magenta is the story of a single stamp and it's history. Sounds about exciting as waiting for the postman but it's much more. We learn of it's creation, discovery and the driven people who owned it. Mix in a dose of world history, politics, socially repugnant behavior, and you
Jean Mehochko
Aug 30, 2017 rated it liked it
History, stamps -- what's not to like?
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“Philately is exacting. It demands an eye and a memory for details, for the intricacies of designs, for tiny differences between one batch of stamps and another.” 0 likes
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