The first postage stamp ever made was the Penny Black. It was issued by Britain in 1840 and pictured a Young Queen Victoria. (The picture to the right is not the Penny Black). It was produced without perforations and therefore had to be cut from the page with scissors in order to be used. Unused examples of the Penny Black are scarce, while used examples are quite common and can be bought for between $20 and $200, depending upon condition.
Stamp Collecting Begins
Stamp collecting began shortly after the production of the first stamps. In 1841 The Times newspaper published a letter asking readers to send postage stamps to a young girl who was making a collection of them. Her name is unknown, but she was probably the first stamp collector.
Early stamp collectors were primarily children and teenagers. Adults thought of it as a child's game. Before long these children grew up, began publishing books about available stamps, and the hobby of stamp collecting began to grow in popularity.
Stamp albums were not available when the first stamp collections began. Albums were not introduced until about 1862 and were virtual works of art in their own right, and are considered collectors' items today. Interestingly, the first stamp collections were applied to just about every surface that could hold them, chairs, tables, walls, even ceilings. One of the early collectors made a map of England and Wales using 2,139 postage stamps.
One of the most astonishing collections of this kind belonged to a circus performer and acrobat named Albert Schafer (1876-1958) who decorated an entire room and it's contents with hundreds and hundreds of stamps. He began working on his Stamp Room at his home in Chiswick, London, while recovering from falling off the circus high wire. It took him sixty years to construct.
The Most Valuable Stamp in the World
The world's most valuable stamp is the One Cent Magenta of British Guiana (Guyana) which was first issued in 1852. It is the most valuable because there is only one genuine copy known to exist. Vernon Vaughan, a 12 year old Scots schoolboy living in British Guiana found the One Cent Magenta on a letter belonging to his uncle. Not knowing how valuable it was, he sold it to a Guianese dealer for a modest sum. The stamp's rarity soon became famous, and it was bought and sold by many collector's including Phillippe von Ferrary, the richest man in the world at that time. After Ferrary died in 1917, his massive collection was auctioned off and the One Cent Magenta ended up in the hands of an American multi-millionaire named Alfred Hind.
Soon after Hind acquired the One Cent Magenta, he discovered another copy of the stamp in Paris. This, of course, damaged the stamp's reputation as the only one of it's kind in the world. Upon this discovery, Hind bought the second stamp and burned it so that the first stamp would retain it's uniqueness.
The One Cent Magenta's estimated value at this time is $935,000.