The One-Cent Magenta by James Barron
Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World

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Barron got the idea for his book after writing a newspaper story about the stamp, and his work has the feeling of an entertaining, in-depth magazine story that’s been padded out to book length. But the key is “entertaining.”
-Star Tribune

Synopsis

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 stories of the eccentric characters who have bought, owned, and sold the one-cent magenta in the years in between, James Barron delivers a fascinating tale of global history and immense wealth, and of the human desire to collect.
 
One-cent magentas were provisional stamps, printed quickly in what was then British Guiana when a shipment of official stamps from London did not arrive. They were intended for periodicals, and most were thrown out with the newspapers. But one stamp survived. The singular one-cent magenta has had only nine owners since a twelve-year-old boy discovered it in 1873 as he sorted through papers in his uncle’s house. He soon sold it for what would be $17 today. (That’s been called the worst stamp deal in history.) Among later owners was a fabulously wealthy Frenchman who hid the stamp from almost everyone (even King George V of England couldn’t get a peek); a businessman who traveled with the stamp in a briefcase he handcuffed to his wrist; and John E. du Pont, an heir to the chemical fortune, who died while serving a thirty-year sentence for the murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.
 
Recommended for fans of Nicholas A. Basbanes, Susan Orlean, and Simon Winchester, The One-Cent Magenta explores the intersection of obsessive pursuits and great affluence and asks why we want most what is most rare.
 
 

About James Barron

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James Barron is a reporter for the New York Times, where his writing has appeared in virtually every section of the paper. He is the author of Piano: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand, and he also edited The New York Times Book of New York. He and his wife live in New York City.
 
Published March 7, 2017 by Algonquin Books. 224 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Crafts, Hobbies & Home, War. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The One-Cent Magenta
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Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by John Reinan on Mar 24 2017

Barron got the idea for his book after writing a newspaper story about the stamp, and his work has the feeling of an entertaining, in-depth magazine story that’s been padded out to book length. But the key is “entertaining.”

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