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Black emperess

A “Mona Lisa” of Philately

A “Mona Lisa” of Philately

The most valuable stamp from British North America

The unique 1c Magenta stamp from British Guiana has long been referred to as the Mona Lisa of philately.

If you wanted to own it, you would likely need around $10 million to secure it. 

Yet, it is not a masterpiece of design and it is in poor condition…

The world’s most valuable stamp – the British Guiana 1856 1c Magenta

You will be relieved to hear that the stamp I unveil to you for the first time today will cost a fraction of the price of the Mona Lisa of philately. 

But, it is so much more attractive.

The beauty and delicacy of its design makes it a work of art.

It depicts a gracious posture of the young Queen Victoria featuring a slender neck.

Combined with its immaculate quality, the example I have is one for the most advanced philatelists and for those discerning buyers looking for exquisite great rarities of the world.

Since the early days of stamp collecting, this stamp has always been regarded as the most valuable, rarest and sought after basic stamp of Canada.

It is not just the most valuable stamp from British North America. It is also considered a world-class philatelic rarity known to and desired by pretty much ever collector in the world.

It is so rare, this is the first time in the 22 years I have been in the stamp business I have managed to obtain a used example. 

Finding any example of this famous stamp would have been a treat.

Finding such an exquisite example is a once in a lifetime event.

Like many iconic stamps, which become something of legend and so rarely seen, philatelists have given it a nickname.

It is now time to unveil the beautiful Black Empress

Canada 1851 (June 14) 12d black on vertically laid paper, SG4, imperforate used example (one of Canada’s first stamp issues)

Why is the Black Empress so rare? 

A total of just 51,000 of the 1851 12d black stamp were printed by Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson of New York. 

In other words, a mere 255 impressions of the printing plate of 200 stamps.

The 12d face value was issued to cover the basic letter rate to Newfoundland or the British West Indies via Halifax or Liverpool, and double-weight letters to the US. 

At the time, prepaid postage was optional. It was still possible to send letters with payment required by the recipient so, at such a high price, demand proved miniscule. 

As a result, only 1,450 were sold over the three and a half years they were on sale.

The remaining 49,550 were returned to the Post Office and destroyed in 1857.

Just 130 examples are known to have survived to the present day in ANY condition. The majority of the surviving examples are cut into, heavily cancelled or variously defective because of the delicate nature of the laid paper.

A masterpiece of design

The design for the Black Empress stamp is considered one of the best from the Victorian era of stamp production.

It is named the Chalon Head, after the Swiss portrait painter, Alfred Chalon.

Queen Victoria commissioned Chalon to paint her portrait for her first appearance as Queen on the occasion of her speech at the House of Lords in 1837. The portrait was intended as a gift to her mother.

It was this famous portrait which became the basis of the Queen’s head used on Canada’s first stamps. 

The irony is that the original portrait painting of the 18-year old Queen is actually very colourful, with radiant hues and adorned in rich red and gold…

Portrait of Queen Victoria, Alfred Edward Chalon, 1837

The portrait was intended to capture for all eternity the Queen at her most radiant.

The Black Empress, by coincidence, managed to encapsulate the whole story of Queen Victoria’s reign… 

It both captures the fresh-faced teenage princess who took the throne in 1837, but then went on to spend half her life wearing black as she mourned for the love of her life, Prince Albert after his death in 1861 until she finally passed away in 1901.

A spectacular used example 

The 12d Black Empress stamp always fetches a high price on the rare occasion when it appears at auction, regardless of condition. The example I have unearthed is in freakishly fine condition and very rarely seen looking so immaculate.

It is a miracle how this remarkable stamp, celebrating its 170th anniversary this year, has survived in this condition.

Let me explain why this is the best quality used example of the 12d Black Empress stamp you are ever likely to find…

  1. The colour is intense and deep with a full strong detailed impression on bright paper indicating that it was quite probably from an early impression of the printing plate
  2. Most of the margins are good to very large and it also shows a trace of the adjoining stamp at the right. Such margins are particularly hard to find for the early stamps without perforations as post office workers cut them by hand
  3. It is attractively cancelled by a large part target cancellation, which exceptionally leaves the portrait entirely clear
  4. It is free from all other common defects such as paper thinning, tears, staining etc.

 In short, it is in an incomparable state of preservation, graced by its overall freshness, extravagantly large margins, very good impression and outstanding deep intense black colour.

It is certainly one of the finest used examples in existence and exceptionally rare and desirable as such. 

Impeccable provenance

Such major stamp rarities are even more valuable when they come with impeccable provenance…

This special example originally belonged to the Dale-Lichtenstein Collection, where it was originally the left stamp in a horizontal pair.

Alfred F. Lichtenstein was an avid stamp collector, and upon his death in 1947, his daughter, Louise Boyd Dale continued building his collection. 

Louise Boyd Dale was prominent at the time in breaking the cultural mould of stamp collecting being a “men only” hobby. She became a leading philatelist and the “first woman” in taking up a number of prominent philatelic positions previously held only by men.

Dale died in 1967 and her collection was auctioned by H.R. Harmer of London in a series of eleven sales from 1968 to 1971. 

This stamp was sold as lot 56 in November 1968.

It was then sold in 1987 by Irwin Weinberg Rarities of Wilkes Barre, Pa. as part of the sale of the John Foxbridge collection, which carried an insurance value of $4 million.

Foxbridge is a pseudonym for an anonymous collector.

The collection was sold by private offering under the title “Treasures of Philately”. 

The Foxbridge Collection took 15 years to form and was regarded as one of the finest ever formed. It was only the third collection in history to win all three possible Grand Prix philatelic awards at the National, International and Court of Honour levels. 

Thirty four years have passed since the last opportunity to own this great rarity.

The stamp is also sold with a recent independent and clear certificate of authenticity issued by the British Philatelic Association (2019). 

The great rarities provide safe haven investments

Being one of the most iconic stamp rarities in the world, the 12d Black Empress naturally commands a high value. 

It is one of those elite stamps which succeeds in taking on an almost mystical gravitational pull.

In 2001, a fine used example of the 12d Black Empress was listed in the Stanley Gibbons catalogue at a value of £30,000.

The 2021 catalogue value for a fine used example is £100,000 meaning it has more than tripled in value over the past 20 years or around 12% pa growth in value.

As it is such a rare stamp, it has not traded on the open market since 2018 meaning its real market value could potentially be higher than the current catalogue value.

When it comes to investing, I can’t think of a safer strategy than focussing on building a collection of the rarest and most iconic stamps of the world.

By nature, they will always be the most desirable to those collectors with the largest budgets. It only takes two competing collectors at auction for prices to rise, often in large step jumps.

It is this dynamic which has resulted in the most valuable and iconic stamps consistently providing a strong safe haven means of growing wealth.

This strategy is particularly successful with long term investment horizons.

Buy with a margin of safety

The current Stanley Gibbons catalogue value for a fine used example of the 12d Black Empress is £100,000.

The Canada Unitrade catalogue lists an imperforate example at a value of $250,000 (around £145,000).

A similar quality used example was sold through Spink Auctions, London in July 2018 where it realised £117,000 (including buyer’s premium and taxes).

There are only 5 known mint examples of the 12d Black Empress. 

The last realisation was set on January 30, 2011 through Spink Shreve’s stamp auction at a staggering £488,750 (including the 15% buyer’s premium).

The used example I have is one of the finest used examples in existence. I could certainly justify adding a premium to the current catalogue value, particularly in light of historic auction realisations.

You will be pleased to hear, however, that I am able to offer you the, all important, “margin of safety” in your purchase.

You can secure one of the most iconic stamps of the world today for a 10% discount to the Stanley Gibbons catalogue value.

For the price of £90,000, you can own a “Mona Lisa” of the stamp world today…

Click here to buy it now

Your opportunity to own one of the most desired stamps in the world

The 12d Black Empress is a philatelic trophy of the highest order.

It is one of the most famous stamps in the world and one of the most beautiful from the Victorian era.

Chances to buy such trophies are very few and far between.

To summarise: 

  • The most famous stamp rarity from Canada
  • A superlative quality used example in a condition almost never seen
  • With a history of long term stable price appreciation
  • From one of the most popularly collected British Empire countries
  • At a price which provides a margin of safety

 Click here to buy now

Call me immediately on +44(0)1534 639998. 

Or email me today at

This could be the superstar stamp your collection needs to really stand out from the rest. 

Kind regards

Mike Hall

PS. If you really want to own the Black Empress, but £90,000 cash up-front is too much for you right now, I have a solution. I am willing to offer this major rarity under our layaway plan of 12 monthly instalments (£7,500 per month).

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