This Little ‘Penny Red’ Stamp Just Sold For $700,000 — What Makes It So Valuable?

Stamp collecting (or philately) may be declining as a hobby, but rare stamps can still be incredibly lucrative for a lucky few.

A Penny Red stamp, one of only five known to exist in the world, was just sold to an anonymous British collector for a whopping $700,000, The Telegraph reported.

Despite the hefty price tag, the British Plate 77 Penny Red is still not the most valuable of its kind. That honor goes to another Penny stamp, which is in better condition and sold in 2012 for $778,250. The stamp was sold to a collector in Australia.

That makes this most recent sale especially gratifying for Keith Heddle, managing director of investments at Stanley Gibbons, the rare collectibles merchant that sold the stamp.

“This is one of the most desirable and iconic of British stamps for collectors worldwide, highly sought after for more than 100 years. With the last one having been sold to a client in Australia, I’m delighted this one has found a home in Britain.”

The Penny stamp is called the “holy grail of philately” and is so sought-after because it was a mistake. Of the five known to exist, two are stored in the British Library and the fifth is in the Royal Collection, considered the most valuable collection of British stamps in the world.

Heddle hopes that the one or two believed to be circulating will surface someday. One of them is believed to have disappeared in 1906 during the San Francisco earthquake.

“With a stamp of this magnitude you invariably get people popping out of the woodwork and you need to figure out whether they’re serious buyers or just kicking the tyres,” he said.

The Penny Red stamp recently sold isn’t actually supposed to exist at all, The Guardian added. One sheet of the stamps were created but never sold by post offices at the time because the makers didn’t think they were good enough.

The printing plate for the Penny stamp was created in 1863, but was faulty, creating stamps with perforations that didn’t line up. Therefore, only one sheet was printed and the plate was destroyed. Even though the Penny Red was never met to leave the printers, a small amount of them did anyway and went into circulation.

The rest of philately history, and the stamp is now highly valuable to collectors, outstripping the beloved Penny Black. That stamp is the first adhesive stamp ever issued and features Queen Victoria’s profile.

Despite its value and rarity, the Penny stamp is still not the most valuable in the world. A stamp called the British Guiana 1c Black on Magenta has earned that title; it sold in 2014 for $9.48 million. Printed in 1856, it’s thought to be one of only three — and the only one left in existence — created by a postmaster who printed them on the fly with local printers when his delivery of stamps was delayed by a storm.

Surprisingly, stamp collecting is considered by some to be a better financial investment than the stock market. And the latest stamp sold may prove that notion right.

“It is testament to the strength of the market for rare stamps that we have managed to (have sold) not just one, but two Plate 77 Penny Reds in the last four years,” Heddle noted.

The financial markets have been pretty volatile of late, but people haven’t stopped buying rare stamps and coins; that market has stayed pretty resilient. Though the mid-range stamps aren’t sold nearly as much as they used to — because the hobby isn’t as popular as it once was — the market for the rarest and most expensive is still going strong.

Last month, Britian’s rarest coins was sold for $350,000. That coin is the Edward VI “boy king” gold sovereign, worth 30 shillings.

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