A report by Patrick Hosking for the London Times.
Stanley Gibbons, the dealer in rare stamps and coins, has started to sound out collectors about buying shares in the world’s rarest postage stamp.
The company paid $8.3 million (£6.1 million) for the One Cent Magenta at Sotheby’s in New York in June and is asking the thousands of people who registered an interest in it for their opinion on a share price, ranging from £32 each to £800.
In each case the number of shares issued would be adjusted so that the total valuation would be £8 million, which would in theory give the company a gross profit of £1.9 million, or 31 per cent, if all the shares were sold.
Stanley Gibbons is one of several companies experimenting with introducing fractional ownership into collectibles. A website called Koia is offering the chance to own shares in rare watches and fine wines and whiskies and The Car Crowd is trying to do something similar for classic cars.
Consumer experts say that those hoping to make money should watch out, pointing to the holiday timeshare schemes of the past, which left some investors nursing heavy losses. Such schemes often flourish in asset bubbles.
Stanley Gibbons says, however, that its venture primarily enables people to engage with one of the world’s most talked about postage stamps rather than as a clinical investment.
The £32-per-share price was the level at which a grandparent might fork out for a gift for a grandchild, Graham Shircore, chief executive, said. He said that the shares were not being billed as an investment product and their marketing would not have to be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
The stamp, which is described as the philatelists’ Mona Lisa, is due to go on display in the company’s shop on The Strand in London.
The octagonal stamp is the only known surviving example of a run of stamps printed as a stop-gap measure in the South American colony of British Guiana, now Guyana.
It sold for six shillings (30p) in 1873, for $32,500 in 1922, for $45,000 in 1940, for $935,000 in 1980 and for $9.48 million in 2014, a record for a single stamp, according to Stanley Gibbons. It had been expected to set a new record again in June, with the estimate set at $10 million to $15 million, but Stanley Gibbons clinched it for $8.307 million.
Shircore said that after import duty and other costs the final bill was more like £6.5 million and there would be costs from insuring and guarding the stamp. “We would shoot ourselves in the foot if we were too greedy,” he said.
Stanley Gibbons said that the units or shares would give buyers “full legal and economic ownership” of the stamp and would come with full voting rights, which would enable unit-holders to decide whether to sell it.
There are no plans for a secondary market in the stamp to allow buyers to sell their shares, but the company is considering a sweepstake with the winner signing their name on the back.