If you had to guess what is secured in the many lockboxes of banks around the world, you’d probably come up with a list of precious metals, jewels, and currency. You might be surprised to find out that in some cases, a tiny sheet of sticky paper, no more than an inch or two square, could be holding the key to millions of dollars.
The 21 most valuable stamps in the world are rare pieces packed with interesting history and countless mistakes. One could have led to the uncovering of military secrets. Another showcases the first plane used for mail transport. While the most expensive stamp exemplifies a worldwide lust for extravagant parties and balls.
When you’re looking for the rarest stamp, you’re going to see a whirlwind of stories from around the globe. Just don’t forget to keep your eyes open, and maybe don’t be so quick to send off that box of old stamps your grandparents handed down to you.
The 21 most valuable stamps to look out for
21. 12d Black Empress: $547,464
Known as Canada’s most valuable, rarest, and sought-after basic stamp, the 1851 12d Black Empress wasn’t often used. The 12d face value paid for a limited scope of destinations, including Newfoundland or the British West Indies, and a double-weight letter to the United States.
Out of the 51,000 originally printed, it is believed that fewer than 145 of these stamps exist today, in any condition. In 2011, a rare Canada 1851 12d Black Empress was sold for $425,000, the equivalent to $547,464 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.
20. 800Y Blue Military: $552,175
The China 1953 800Y Blue Military stamp was intended to provide a free method for military personnel to stay in touch. But it was a telltale sign for anyone seeking to uncover military secrets. Therefore, the entire three-color lineup was discontinued almost immediately.
The blue version is the most sought-after because it was in circulation for the shortest amount of time. In 2011, one Blue Military Stamp was auctioned for 2.7 million yuan (US $428,654), equivalent to $552,175 today.
19. Red Maiden in the Green Robe: $681,874
It’s never a good sign when a currency collapses and a substitute needs to be created. But when this happens, you can be certain that some collectible items will result. This stamp was issued during the Qing Dynasty’s currency reform.
It is believed that there are nine 1897 2 Cents Red Maiden in the Green Robe stamps remaining today. The last known sale was in 2004 when a Red Maiden in the Green Robe stamp sold for $444,477 in Hong Kong, equal to $681,874 in 2023 dollars.
18. Hawaiian Missionary: $714,950
It’s easy to overlook history sometimes, but not here. It was created when the United States’ influence on the Hawaiian islands was mainly as missionaries performing religious and educational work on the islands.
These stamps have achieved a rare status as collector’s items from a time before Hawaiian statehood. The last United States 1851 2 Cents Hawaiian Missionary reported at auction went for $619,500 in 2018, equal to $714,950 today.
17. Penny Red Plate 77: $806,822
The worst examples often make incredible collector’s items. That’s the case with the UK 1863 Penny Red Plate 77 stamp, which was found to be too low quality for usage before any were sold. This batch was not perforated correctly in production and was meant to be destroyed.
But it seems some were able to evade the incinerator. A rare Plate 77 Penny Red sold in 2016 for £495,000, equal to about USD 806,822 today.
16. Inverted Pair Dr Sun Yat-sen: $816,685
With one of the most obvious design flaws, this stamp from the mid-20th century shows its flaw front and center. It shows Dr Sun Yat Sen, the first president of the People’s Republic of China, as upside-down.
There was just one sheet of fifty stamps ever created with this problem. The inverted pair is one of two pairs known to still be in existence. It last sold in 2018 for $707,700 in a Hong Kong auction, equal to $816,685 today.
15. 6d Pale Dull Purple I.R. Official: $823,902
Slippery hands from 1904 are to thank for this stamp still existing. Issued on the same day that an official order came in to destroy this set of stamps, somehow a few examples evaded the eternal flame and have made their way into the collector’s market.
They were exclusively used by the Inland Revenue government department, and it would have been a criminal offense for the public to possess or sell these stamps. One sold for £400,000 in 2010, equal to approximately $823,902 today.
14. 10 Cent On 9 Candareen: $883,940
Coming from China’s Empress Dowager era, this stamp is one of the most valuable Chinese stamps today. Issued in 9 Candareen, they were sent for a 10-cent surcharge, which was done upside-down. Today, only four examples have been recorded, two used and two unused.
It was estimated at $766,000 USD in 2018, equivalent to $883,940 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.
13. Red Revenue One Dollar Small: $1,107,300
This bright red stamp is part of a very small batch of 32 recorded copies. Shortly after being issued, they were immediately replaced with a second version because the text was too small and illegible.
As a result, the 1897 Red Revenue One Dollar Small stamp has become one of China’s most expensive stamps. It is from the Qing Dynasty and sold for $889,800 in 2013, equivalent to $1,107,300 today.
12. George Washington B-Grill: $1,392,800
Don’t let this special B-Grill stamp get mixed up with other 1868 George Washington stamps. While the rest are plentiful and not incredibly valuable, the B-Grill version is one of the most valuable stamps to look out for and only four known examples exist today.
The B-Grill indentation is identifiable through upward-pointing indentations and because it was larger than other grills used. It was quickly replaced with smaller grills, leading to the iconic status and one of the rarest stamps in the world.
It last sold for $1.035 million in 2008, equivalent to $1,392,800 today.
11. Inverted Declaration of Independence: $1,615,400
If you have ever seen Fourth of July celebrations, you know how passionate some Americans are about their independence. That was also the case in 1869 when this batch of stamps was created, depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
But this version is one of the most expensive stamps because of the accidentally inverted picture. Only four are known to exist. It last sold for $1.2 million in 2008 to the surprise of many philatelists, equivalent to $1,615,400 today.
10. Inverted Jenny: $1,631,700
Not only does this stamp include an erroneously upside-down print, but it also incorporates a bit of mail history. The image is of a Curtiss JN-4HM, a plane used heavily during World War I, but perhaps more important to the world of philately, it is the first plane used to deliver mail.
Only one single sheet of 100 stamps was created, with mainly single examples existing today. Two blocks of four are also known to exist. A single 1918 Inverted Jenny sold at auction for $1,351,250 in 2016, equivalent to $1,631,700 today.
9. Baden 9 Kreuzer Error: $2,019,200
Contrasting the otherwise orderly reputation of Germany, this stamp is special due to a mistake that happened in 1851. The Baden 9 Kreuzer stamp should have been printed in pink color, but somehow green ink slipped in which was intended for use on 6 Kreuzer stamps, creating one of the most valuable rare stamps wanted by collectors.
Only one unused copy and four used copies are known to exist. The last one sold in 2008 for $1,500,000, equivalent to $2,019,200 today.
8. Alexandria Blue Boy: $2,040,500
Most stamps from the United States are issued by the federal government, but this valuable stamp was issued shortly before the federal government began doing so. Buying one would have turned even the most valuable nickels into treasure.
Alexandria produced the Postmaster’s Provisionals, of which seven copies are recorded today, but only one on the slightly blue paper of the Alexandria Blue Boy. It is permanently affixed to a forbidden love letter.
It sold for $1.18 million in 2019, equivalent to $2,040,500 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.
7. The Whole Country Is Red: $2,307,700
Once again, a mistake has turned an otherwise normal stamp into one of the most valuable stamps. Made to commemorate the Chinese Cultural Revolution, this stamp includes a worker, farmer, and soldier all carrying a copy of the Selected Works of Chairman Mao.
The map, however, was deemed to be inaccurate and the stamps were quickly pulled from production. The official reason is that the Spratly and Paracel Islands were missing from the map with various country borders drawn inaccurately as well.
In 2018, one sold for a reported 13.8 million Yuan, equivalent to $2,307,700 today.
6. Two Penny Blue: $2,327,400
If you want to get one of the earliest stamps ever collected, then look no further. The Two Penny Blue is the world’s second official postage stamp, coming behind the legendary Penny Black. The Two Penny Blue was meant for heavier items and was used less often than the Penny Black.
It sold for 1,610,000 Swiss Francs in 1992, equivalent to $2,327,400 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars. It was known as the most expensive stamp from the British Commonwealth for over 20 years until 2014.
5. Sicilian Error of Color: $2,576,600
The 1859 Sicilian Error of Color was supposed to be orange but instead was printed blue. There are only two known to be in existence today, making it one of the most valuable rare stamps wanted by collectors.
Both were shown at the 1899 Manchester Philatelic Exposition, then separated before one was sold as part of the Ferrari collection. One sold in 2011 for €1.8 million, or about $2,576,600 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.
4. Swedish Treskilling Yellow: $4,248,000
Another top spot in the list of the most valuable stamps to look out for is held by a misprinted example. The 1855 Swedish Treskilling Yellow was part of Sweden’s first postage stamps ever produced and should have been printed in green. The mistaken yellow copies are down to one in existence today, a pristine example of the rarest stamp in the world.
It is not easy to say exactly how much it is worth. It was sold in 2010 and 2014 for undisclosed amounts, the last known sale was in 1993 for $2.3 million, or $4,248,000 in 2023 dollars.
3. Benjamin Franklin Z Grill: $4,451,000
This stamp from 1868 was part of a small batch with a Z Grill pattern of horizontal z-shaped indentations. It is now part of an extremely exclusive club of stamps, with only two examples around today. One is permanently held at New York Public Library’s Miller Collection, while the other is one of the most valuable rare stamps wanted by collectors.
In 1998, one sold for $935,000 at auction. Then in 2005, it was traded for four Inverted Jenny stamps, valued at $3 million. That is equivalent to $4,451,000 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.
2. British Guiana 1 Cent Magenta: $11,628,700
The 1856 British Guiana 1 Cent Magenta is known to have one in existence and is the only major postage stamp missing from Britain’s Royal Philatelic Collection. Originally intended for use in local newspapers, the 1 Cent Magenta was produced as an emergency solution due to a delayed stamp shipment.
Known as the rarest stamp in the world, it was sold in 2014 to shoe designer Stuart Weitzman for $9.5 million, equivalent to $11,628,700 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.
1. Mauritius Post Office Stamps: $12,790,600
Worth more than some of the most valuable paintings, the Mauritius Post Office stamps are the most expensive stamps in the world.
At first glance, you might think the Mauritius Post Office stamps are the same as other British stamps from the era. But these are distinct because they are the first British stamps created outside of Great Britain.
There are believed to be 27 examples of One Penny red and Two Penny blue 1847 Mauritius Post Office Stamps around today. At least three are affixed to ‘Ball Covers’ from Lady Elizabeth Gomm who was known for throwing lavish balls in Mauritius at the time.
In 2021, one Ball Cover featuring a One Penny red stamp sold for €10,027,800, or about $12,790,600 in inflation-adjusted 2023 dollars.
The most important piece, however, is the Bordeaux Cover. It includes both One Penny red and Two Penny blue examples affixed to an envelope but not used. It was last reported as being sold in 1993 at a Swiss auction for 6,123,750 Swiss Francs. Due to the recent Ball Cover sale, it seems likely this has appreciated even higher.
Buyer’s guide to the most valuable stamps
Before you start your stamp collection, it’s crucial to have an understanding of what makes stamps collectible and valuable.
If you want to find the most valuable stamps in the world, then you need to consider a few things. Condition is important, but stamps that are rare, with a deep history and any misprinted aspects are where the true value is found. The most valuable coins are held to similar standards.
Arguably the most important aspect of any collectible stamp is how rare it is. If you have a stamp that no one else has, then people will pay top dollar for it. The British Guiana 1856 1 Cent Magenta is the perfect example of this, where not even the British government has been able to get its hands on one.
Another important factor in the value of a stamp is the history behind it. Take for example the Mauritius 1847 Post Office Stamps, which not only are interesting because they are the first British stamps made outside of Great Britain, but also because they have a fun history of being used to invite guests to extravagant balls.
The single most important characteristic of many valuable stamps, however, comes from what the stamps are not supposed to be. A misprinted stamp can cause the value to skyrocket. Just take another quick look at this entire list, and you’ll find many examples of how misprinted stamps become extremely valuable collectors’ items.
But if you want to find the most expensive stamps, then you need to combine all of these characteristics on a stamp that is in excellent condition. If you can find this, then you are likely going to be holding a small piece of paper that is quite literally worth more than its weight in gold.
Conclusion: The world’s most valuable stamps
Coming from many countries and across a long history, the most expensive stamps in the world are certain to surprise you. Perhaps the military blunder allowing others to identify military correspondence is your favorite. Or maybe you love the most expensive Mauritius stamps.
Whatever the case, the most valuable stamps in the world are sure to continue their climb in value as the years pass. Make sure you keep your tongue off of them!
21 most valuable stamps in the world
- Mauritius 1847 Post Office Stamps: $12,790,600
- British Guiana 1856 1 Cent Magenta: $11,628,700
- Benjamin Franklin Z Grill: $4,451,000
- Swedish Treskilling Yellow: $4,248,000
- Sicilian Error of Color: $2,576,600
- Two Penny Blue: $2,327,400
- The Whole Country Is Red: $2,307,700
- Alexandria Blue Boy: $2,040,500
- Baden 9 Kreuzer Error: $2,019,200
- Inverted Jenny: $1,631,700
- Inverted Declaration of Independence: $1,615,400
- George Washington B-Grill: $1,392,800
- Red Revenue One Dollar Small: $1,107,300
- 10 Cent On 9 Candareen: $883,940
- 6d Pale Dull Purple I.R. Official: $823,902
- Inverted Pair Dr Sun Yat-sen: $816,685
- Penny Red Plate 77: $806,822
- Hawaiian Missionary: $714,950
- Red Maiden in the Green Robe: $681,874
- 800Y Blue Military: $552,175
- 12d Black Empress: $547,464