Stamp collecting comes with a lot of stereotypes in Western culture. It's usually a hobby you might associate with someone who's looking to unwind during their retirement. However, collecting stamps can be highly lucrative, exciting even, if you know just what stamps to look for. Just like coins are often worth far more than their face value, stamps can be worth hundreds, thousands, and even millions more than their original value. Below are some of the most valuable stamps that philatelists the world over long to have in their collections.
What It's Worth: Last sold for $9,500,000
Why It's Worth So Much: Thought to be the "world's most famous stamp," the British Guiana One-Cent Black on Magenta is currently also the world's most expensive stamp. Considered to be the last of its kind, the stamp was made on a newspaper press by the resourceful postmaster of British Guiana in 1856 while waiting on official stamps to arrive. The stamp was thought to be lost for a time, then found by a young boy in 1873, before being sold multiple times over the following century. The stamp's last owner was perhaps its most well-known, John Eleuthére du Pont, who was convicted for the slaying of Olympic wrestler David Schultz. The stamp was sold after du Pont's passing as part of his estate. While it's held the record as the most expensive stamp in history for the past five years at $9,500,000, Sotheby's initially thought it would sell for $10-20,000,000.
What It's Worth: Up to $3,000,000
Why It's Worth So Much: The 1868 One-Cent Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill is cited as one of the rarest and most valuable stamps in US history. Produced for just a matter of weeks in February 1868, the stamp featured a "Z-Grill" pattern unique among stamps of the time. While 19th-century stamps regularly featured grills to prevent reuse, the Z-Grill used a horizontal pattern, while other grills employed a vertical pattern. This small variation, combined with the short run of stamps, means there are only two 1868 One-Cent Benjamin Franklin Z-Grill stamps left today. One is owned by the New York Public Library, the other by billionaire Bill Gross. Gross acquired the stamp in 2005 through a $3,000,000 trade with another collector.
What It's Worth: Up to $3,000,000
Why It's Worth So Much: The 1918 Inverted Jenny is nearly the most valuable stamp in US history. The inversion error was first noticed by bank teller William T. Robey on the day the stamp was released. Robey purchased the entire one hundred block of stamps for $24, then sold it shortly after for $15,000. Over the years, the block of one hundred was divided up, and certain stamps were damaged over the years. A block of four stamps was even taken in 1955, although three of the stamps have been recovered over the years. A single Inverted Jenny is estimated to have a value of $1,600,000.
What It's Worth: Around $2,300,000
Why It's Worth So Much: The Treskilling Yellow is the only one of its kind, making it the rarest and most valuable stamp to come out of Sweden and one of the most valuable stamps in the world. In 1857, three skilling stamps were printed in a blue-green color, but a single three skilling stamp was printed in yellow. The stamp was canceled and went unnoticed until it was found by a collector in 1866. Not realizing it was a misprint, the young man sold the stamp for the equivalent of $1 in today's currency. The stamp had multiple owners, including the King of Romania in 1950.
In the 1970s, the Swedish Postal Museum claimed that the stamp was a forgery, although they later retracted the claim on two different occasions. Regardless, the stamp last sold in 2010 for around $2,300,000 (the exact amount was not made public). It was the most expensive stamp sale in history at the time.