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

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  288 ratings  ·  84 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
Kindle Edition, 289 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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May 23, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Thinking this was going to be an interesting, high-level introduction to the nuances of stamp collecting was my first mistake, because this was not that. Instead, The One-Cent Magenta focuses on the handful of people who have owned the world's rarest stamp: old rich dudes (and one old rich dude's widow), almost all of whom don't care about stamp collecting, really, but care only about owning something that no one else in the world can.

Which is...not a compelling story, nor one I suspect many pe
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: random-stuff
This is a very entertaining book. He managed to keep what easily could have been a very dry arcane topic quite interesting. He kept it light and humorous while introducing us to some really random trivia-type information about “Stamp World”. For example, do you know what the very first British postage stamp looked like? Well, maybe I should have mentioned the first tidbit I learned: there is a stamp worth almost $10 million. Oh, and it wasn’t even supposed to exist. Do you know who is responsib ...more
Oct 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Meh. This could have easily been an article or article series, rather than a full book. The author is a journalist by trade and you can tell by the writing style of this book. It's not bad, but it doesn't have the flow and feel of a typical non-fiction book.

The subject matter isn't in my particular wheel-house. I don't collect anything, let alone stamps and I have no desire to do so. Mostly because if I did, I would go OCD on it to the exclusion of all else, including a life. Knowing how I can
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaway, 2017
A fascinating look at the head world of philately told in Barron’s conversational style. [Insert joke in the vein of, “Who knew stamps could be so interesting?”] But really, this is a quick and fun examination of an uber rare stamp and the collectors with too much cash who chase it.

It’s breezy, obviously well-researched, and never dull, if a bit jumpy.

Note: I received a free ARC from a Goodreads giveaway.
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Derek Emerson
Barron's book is based around the world's most valuable stamp, but talking about an admittedly ugly stamp makes for a dull book! Instead, Barron focuses on the owners of the stamp since its discovery and he does unveil a interesting range of characters. Some loved stamps, some loved investments, and some just like collecting anything. Clearly, collectors as a general category are an interesting set since it includes just about everyone.

We all collect -- it may be books, clothes, record albums,
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Ott
"The One-Cent Magenta" - written by James Barron and published in 2017 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a division of Workman Publishing. "Stamp World, an arcane parallel universe peopled by collectors who are crazed and crazy, obsessed and obsessive." Barron, through plenty of thorough research, has pieced together an interesting story tracing the journey of a single stamp from its printing in 1856 in British Guiana through to the present, soon after it is sold to settle the estate of John Du ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Tory Wagner
The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World by James Barron is a peek inside the world of stamp collecting more formally known as philately. The one-cent magenta was produced in the British Guiana and by 1873 only one stamp remained. Barron shares its journey from one collector to the next until 2014 when that one cent stamp was sold at Sotheby's for almost 9.5 million! Like many, I collected stamps as a child and found this book brought back many memories. ...more
Katharine Coggeshall
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.
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly enjoyed this easily accessible entry to 'Stamp World'. Really want to go to Washington to see this stamp. Stamps are mini works of art!
January Gray
May 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 15, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc, non-fiction
The author has taken on a Herculean task in trying to make a book about a postage stamp interesting. After all, philatelists are not known for being wild and crazy guys. Perhaps a bit off their rocker as we shall see but not exactly party animals. After the background on the stamp has been covered the titles of the chapters are the amounts the stamp has sold for and each gives background on the buyer so essentially 8 of the 11 chapters are as captivating as the owner.

The portrayed stamp was crea
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although at first glance the topic of this book may appear to be arcane and dry, the author has succeeded admirably in making the story entertaining, informative, and eminently readable.

The book may have resonated more with me than it would with many readers, because (1) I was a childhood stamp collector who still has my collection, (2) I worked for a short time as a mail carrier for the U.S. Post Office, just before it was transformed into the United States Postal Service, and (3) I currently
Audiobook 2 star, may have been a 3 star if I’d read the print copy, maybe.
NF book group, stamps theme.

So glad I’m done. I’m not sure if it was the annoying intonation of the reader, the relatively uninteresting topic/writing, or the generally horrible people that this book documented that made this such a slog for me. I wanted to like it but if I hear the words “one cent magenta” or “in today’s dollars” again today I’m going to scream.
Maybe I just don’t get collecting (or at least this kind
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
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
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 16, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know what I expected from this book, but it didn't deliver it. I guess I was hoping for something like "Word Freak" by Stefan Fatsis, where the author shows some of the charm, quirkiness, and knowledge of a subculture. However I felt that this book was a much more ephemeral treatment of philately than Fatsis did with Scrabble, almost to the point of being superficial.

It may be the case that real information about the history of the 1c magenta is hard to find, but I wouldn't have minded i
Feb 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book as an early reviewer copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I enjoyed this book. It was a fun, easy read. Something I would characterize as a summertime read with a little more heft. It wasn't overly technical or dry; I definitely appreciated this considering the world of stamp collecting is not one I am familiar with. It read like a long newspaper article, or perhaps a series of newspaper articles on the same topic, but not in a bad way. I just thing this ...more
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