New York Times reporter to explore quest for one-cent magenta at 2018 Spring Show

The New York reporter who investigated and authored a book on the intriguing story surrounding the world’s most famous stamp – the British Guiana one-cent magenta – will be speaking at the National Postage Stamp and Coin Show on April 7.

James Barron is author of The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to Own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World and a journalist at The New York Times, where his articles have appeared in virtually every section of that paper.

Barron’s book opens the door to the obsessive, secretive and often bizarre world of high-profile stamp collecting, which is 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 USD, 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, 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 12-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 30-year sentence for the murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz.


Barron will be sharing the historic journey of the one-cent magenta and answering questions from the audience during a special session on April 7 at the National Postage Stamp and Coin Show. Following his presentation he will be autographing his book, which will also be available for purchase at the show.

Barron has covered the Sept. 11th attacks – both the minute-to-minute reporting in 2001 and the 10th-anniversary story in 2011 – as well as the Sandy Hook shooting and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Among the other topics he has written about are museums, mass transit, and music. Barron is an accomplished amateur pianist and has written for The New York Times about many piano-related subjects, including the auctioning of both pianos from Casablanca and the concert pianist Gary Graffman’s hobby of infusing vodka. 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. Barron was born in Washington, D.C. and often visited the building that is now the National Postal Museum as a child. He and his wife live in New York City.

For more details on this special session, look for the National Postage Stamp and Coin Show supplement in CSN this March plus updates at Advanced tickets for this special session will be available in February. Saturday’s admission is only $3, which includes full-day access to the entire stamp and coin show.

The National Postage Stamp and Coin Show is co-hosted by Canadian Stamp News and Canadian Coin News, a division of Trajan Publishing Corp. 


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