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Color + Design: The World's Most Valuable Stamps

Color + Design: The World's Most Valuable Stamps

Since the first self adhesive stamp (the Penny Black, made in 1840 featuring the bust of Queen Victoria) stamp designs have been one of the most highly visible designs in society, one that is particularly important since it represents the nation it comes from.

Today we are featuring some stamps from around the world that you will probably never come across, and if you did you would be quite happy because of their value, along with info about the history of stamp design.

The most common types of stamp designs are Portrait bust, Emblem, Numeric, or Pictorial.

Color & Stamps

Although multi-color printing was always possible, and may be seen on the earliest stamps of Switzerland, the process was slow and expensive, and most stamps were in one or two colors until the 1960s.

World's Most Valuable Stamps

Post Office Mauritius, 1847
It is estimated that fewer than 30 individual copies of these stamps have survived and they are valued at between $600,000 or more depending on the condition of the particular stamp being sold. In 1993 a cover bearing 2 of these stamps sold for a whopping $3.8 million, the highest price ever paid any philatelic item.

Sweden Three Skilling Banco, Yellow Color Error, 1855
The three skilling stamp (yellow color error) was issued in Sweden in 1855. Due to a printing error, this stamp is printed on yellow colored paper (meant for the eight skilling stamp of the same set) instead of the usual green color (used for the three skilling stamp). One copy of the yellow error variety of this stamp was found in 1885 by a young Swedish boy in his grandfather's collection.It is a one-of -a- kind rarity, as no other copies have been discovered to date. In 1996 the stamp was sold to an anonymous collector for $2.3 million at auction.

U.S. Franklin Z-Grill, 1867
This stamp is the rarest of all U.S. stamps, as only 2 copies are known to exist. These stamps depict a portrait of Benjamin Franklin and are embossed with a "Z-Grill" - being a pattern of tiny squares embossed into the paper and visible on the back of the stamps. The purpose of the "Z-Grill" was to permit the canceling ink to be absorbed into the stamp paper thus preventing those who wanted to cheat the post from washing out cancellation marks.The use of "Z-Grills" was not found to be practical and the practice was soon discontinued. An 1868 1 cent "Z-Grill" stamp sold for $930,000 in 1988.

British Guiana One Cent Black on Magenta, 1856
For a very long time, the 1856 one-cent "Black on Magenta" of British Guiana was considered to be the world's rarest and most expensive stamp. Production of these stamps did not last for very long. In 1873, a 12-year local boy discovered an octagon-shaped one cent "Black on Magenta", postmarked April 4, 1856, and bearing the initials "E.D.W" in his family's attic. Over the years it became apparent that this stamp was unique, as no other copy was ever discovered. In 1980 it was auctioned to John Dupont for $935,000.

Hawaiian Missionaries, 1851

In 1851 Hawaii issued its first stamps. These stamps are now referred to as the "Hawaiian Missionaries" because they were frequently used by American missionaries on the islands to send letters back to the continental United States. The new stamps were printed in Honolulu in three denominations (2 cent, 5 cent, and 13 cent). Because the first "Hawaiian Missionaries" were crudely engraved and printed on thin and poor quality paper, very few of these stamps have survived and they are extreme rarities.

The lowest denomination, the 1851 two cent, is the rarest of the set, with only about 16 copies known to exist today. A 2 cent Missionary is valued at about $760,000 in unused condition and about $225,000 used.


Usage of patterns has varied considerably; for 60 years, from 1840 to 1900, all British stamps used exactly the same profile bust of Victoria, enclosed in a dizzying variety of frames, while Spain periodically updated the image of Alfonso XIII as he grew from child to adult. Norway has issued stamps with the same posthorn motif for over a century, changing only the details from time to time as printing technology improves, while the US has placed the flag of the United States into a wide variety of settings since first using it on a stamp in the 1950s.

Most valuable U.S. Stamps

VALUE: Used $220,000.00
Color: Black, Z Grill

VALUE: Flags Inverted: Unused, Hinged $210,000.00
Color: Ultramarine & carmine

VALUE: Unused, Hinged $275,000.00
Color: Green & violet

VALUE: Used $160,000.00
Color: Rose, B Grill

VALUE: Center Inverted, Unused, Hinged $275,000.00
Color: Brown & blue

CURTISS JENNY Center Inverted 1918
VALUE: Mint, Never Hinged $200,000.00
Color: Carmine rose & blue

Monopoly On Design

Since postage stamps are a gov't regulated monopoly we dont get to see a very free and wide selction of stamp designs and such...though now you can get you own stamps designed....

In some cases, overt political pressure has resulted in a backlash; a famous example is that of the US in the late 1940s, when the US Congress had direct authority over stamp design, and a large number of issues were put out merely to please a representative's constituency or industry lobbyists. The resulting uproar resulted in the formation of an independent Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee that reviews and chooses from hundreds of proposals received each year. Occasionally the public is polled for its choice of design, as with the US' Elvis stamp of 1993, or some issues of the Celebrate the Century series.

Occasionally designs use text as their primary design element; for instance, a series of US stamps from the 1970s featured quotations from the United States Declaration of Independence. In general however, text has come to be used more sparingly in recent years.

More Color Inspiration From Stamps


Thomas Hawk







Stamps Errors

On the other side, design errors regularly get through the multiple stages of review and checking. Errors have ranged from minute points of rendition (such as the subtly-reversed ears on an Austrian stamp of the 1930s), to misrepresentations of disputed territory in maps, to mistaken text ("Sir Codrington" on 1920s Greece), to the truly spectacular, such as the US "Legends of the West" sheet using the picture of the wrong person. See stamp design error for further detail.

Another category of failure includes designs that are simply rejected by the stamp-buying public. The 1970s-era anti-alcoholism stamp of the US is a well-known example; it consists merely of the slogan "Alcoholism: You Can Beat It!", which must have looked good during the design process, but affixed to the corner of an envelope it suggests that the recipient is an alcoholic in need of public encouragement, and few people ever used this stamp on their mail.

Sources: stamp design, rarest postage stamps.

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Showing 1 - 12 of 12 Comments


That's a lot for some stamps o_o
+ really cool <3


whoa.......these stamps are expensive :O

awesome post and colors!


My parents just recently discovered a box full of stamps from all over the world in crazy amounts!
We're hoping to find something valuable, we're done with the sorting.

Found a 2,000,000 mark stamp from Germany during Hitler's time!


A gorgeous collection, thanks for you efforts again. I particulary like the Art nouveau style stamps.


a little more history of the world's most valuable stamp ... One of the Dupont heirs owned it, but he's in the loony bin now....


Some precancel stamp collectors might contend that a certain 2 cent Liberty precancel from Phenix City, Alabama is the rarest U.S. stamp, since it was made solely at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and there's only one. After all, there are over 90 inverted Jenny Airmails remaining from the original pane of 100. Since the Scott Stamp catalog "ignores" bureau precancel stamps, even if the precancels were put on the stamp on the Stickney press before the stamps were GUMMED, cured for a few days, AND PERFORATED, that's another story. This particular stamp was spirited out of the Bureau under mysterious circumstances as we do not think that any were ever used and they all were ordered to be sent for destruction.

a few more general precancel facts from my own website...


After all, one of the precancels in my own collection is one of the 254 or so UNIQUE United States LOCAL precancels. Since these were applied after-the-fact, and precancels were used on junk mail, the single stamp in each case may be all that survived, even from a device that made 10, 25, or 100 at a time. Amazing. They are certainly not in as much demand as the items above. One person would like to buy it of course and has lots of money to do so, but as long as I have it, I have his respect. It took 25 years to get that respect. If I sell it, I just go back into the bottom of the stamp collecting pile since he no longer cares about what I have. It was authorized in 1932. It was found in the estate of a precancel stamp collector who died in the 1980s, recognized for what it was, and sold to the current household.

THIS STAMP IS UNIQUE. That means that there is only one...with this particular exact precancellation.


A few years ago, a parody exhibit in Houston, Texas contained the triangular CORNERS from the British Guiana One Cent Black on Magenta, 1856 stamp above.


more rare stamp fun update ... swapping rare stamps like baseball cards...
One collector missed out on the Franklin Z-Grill when it came up for auction to complete his collection of 19th century US stamps. What did he do? He bought the PLATE BLOCK (only one on the pane of 100 with the margin number) of the inverted Jenny airmail in October 2005 and traded for it in a $4 million stamp swap.

I tried to limit the width to 300 pixels but the graphic looked terrible. This thumbnail is slightly larger.

It's not like the guy who sold the plate block was a one trick pony. He owned 5 of the 6 blocks of 4 remaining still together, and still has the other 4, or 16 stamps. I do not know how many of the other single stamps remaining he has also, if any.

Who was the winner in all of this? Probably the tax man.


Found a 2,000,000 mark stamp from Germany during Hitler's time!

No...the bunches of marks stamps were from the hyperinflation period of the 1920s....not rare.

your 2 million mark example from 1923
20 cents unused (nuisance value, if you really want one)...rarer postally used...95 cents.

How high did the values go?
Here's one in the same set for 50 milliard.
In the European system, that's like 50 billion in the US.

Hitler himself didn't show up on a German stamp until 1941 or so.

More hyperinflation fun. The values went even higher for the Hungarian hyperinflation of the 1940s. I have a set of four commemoratives issued for steam locomotives in 1946. The highest value is 40,000ap.

An ap is an adopengo or tax pengo, equal to about a quadrillion pengo in the European system at that point in time. I would have to re-research the exact stamp issue date, but that's close enough.

hmmm. million, milliard, billion, billiard, quadrillion

On the 1st of August, 1946 400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 or 4×10**29 (four hundred octillion [ short scale ] ) pengő became 1 forint.

The stamp catalog I am using is from 2007 since I cannot afford to replace them every year. The last stamp in there from Zimbabwe from 2006, and they were up to a $450,000 value by that time. Zimbabwe is the country currently going the most crazy with silly currency values.

There is some amazing reading about numbers with a lot of zeroes in this wikipedia article and there are a lot of detailed tables. It's a good read and reference so I will not summarize. 10 zeroes were recently chopped off of the currency, and unofficial exchange values are updated daily now in October, 2008.


general hyperinflation and pictures of high value currencies and currency with lots of zeroes...not worth as much as high value stamps, but we can't have everything...one things leads to another around here.


This link actually has the most recent auction history and illustration of the 24 cent green with inverted center. (The illustration above is of the normal stamp.)


The eagle and shield is also not inverted above in relation to the flags. That is the normal stamp. ... normal ones illustrated here




I have that 3 cents Lincoln stamp .... if anybody is intresded let me now

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