Private Versus Public Ownership of Philatelic Treasures

In private communications, I’ve visited with several different collectors and dealers, some of whom expressed the desire that rarities, such as the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta and the 24c. Inverted Jenny plate block currently owned by Stuart Weitzman but due to be sold at Sotheby’s on 8 June, would be picked up by museums, such as the US National Postal Museum branch of the Smithsonian Institution. Although realistically this is not a likely scenario (most museums don’t like to spend a lot of money on acquisition versus donation), my own opinion is that this would be an exceptionally poor scenario.

The 24c. Inverted Jenny plate block is one of the Three Treasures owned by Stuart Weitzman that are to be auctioned on 8 June

For one, many museums (the Smithsonian included), tend to salt these types of rarities away, rarely ever placing them on display. If they do, the items displayed are frequently facsimiles, rather than originals. Secondly, anyone who can afford these types of items are certainly well aware of the need to preserve and conserve them – if nothing else, to preserve their investments.

To illustrate this point, the One-Cent Magenta dodged a potentially fatal bullet more than a century ago. The owner at the time, Philipp von Ferrary, one of the world’s greatest collectors, had purchased the stamp in 1878. When he died in 1917 (after owning it for 39 years), he bequeathed his entire collection to a Berlin Museum. Because the museum’s holdings were taken by France as reparations for World War I, Ferrary’s wishes weren’t honoured and the collection was eventually sold.

The British Guiana One-Cent Magenta is the world’s most expensive stamp

Had the One-Cent Magenta been permanently held by the museum, its story would have been, effectively, over. The stamp may or may not have been exhibited and the stamp would never have been owned by Arthur Hind, Irwin Weinberg, John du Pont, Weitzman and others, all of whom have added significantly to the history and lore of the stamp and, consequently, to the story of the hobby.

More importantly, this legendary lore is part of what occasionally attracts the mainstream media to cover philately. Items such as the One-Cent Magenta and the Inverted Jenny plate block belong, in my opinion, to the hobby and private collectors, not to institutions.

It will be interesting, indeed, to see the next chapter of the ongoing stories of these icons of philately.

Article by Wayne L Youngblood

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