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John du Pont-owned 19th century stamp fetches record $9.48 million at auction

A postage stamp owned by John du Pont (right) broke records at auction in mid-June
A postage stamp owned by John du Pont (right) broke records at auction in mid-JunePhoto of stamp courtesy of GlenStephens.com; photo of du Pont courtesy of InterMat

The worlds of wrestling, stamp-collecting and filmmaking collided this month when a 19th century, one-cent postage stamp from the collection of the late John du Pont, murderer of Olympic gold medalist wrestler Dave Schultz that is the focus of the yet-to-be-released film “Foxcatcher”, sold for a world record $9.48 million in a Sotheby’s auction in New York City June 17.

The sale price, which includes a 20% commission, for “the world’s most legendary postage stamp,” as described in the cover story of the July 7 issue of “Linn’s Stamp News”, “is almost exactly 10 times what the stamp last sold for in 1980, then also a record price.”

The stamp magazine reported that the only surviving copy of the 1856 British Guiana stamp has changed hands only eight or nine times since it was first discovered 141 years ago.

The “Delaware News-Journal” reported, “By size and weight, experts say, it also is the most-costly man-made object ever sold, even though the sale gavel struck below its projected $10 million to $20 million auction price.” Stamp collector website GlenStephens.com presented the “most costly man-man object” idea another way, stating the stamp was “worth U.S. $350 billion a kilogram!”

The one-inch stamp also could claim outsized interest beyond its small size – and the number of serious stamp collectors. Before the auction, a number of general media outlets hyped the $10-$20 million expected sale price. The sizable media coverage continued in the days following the auction, not just because of the rarity of the stamp or the final selling price, but also because of the notorious nature of the owner, John du Pont, not just because of his multimillionaire status, but also as a convicted murder.

The one-of-a-kind stamp was part of the estate of du Pont, who died in prison in 2010 after being sentenced for the January 1996 murder of Schultz at du Pont’s Foxcatcher Farms wrestling training facility outside Philadelphia. The intersection of the lives of du Pont and wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz is the subject of the much-anticipated film “Foxcatcher” from director Bennett Miller, starring Steve Carell as du Pont, Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz, and Channing Tatum as Dave’s younger brother Mark. “Foxcatcher”, which earned Miller best director honors at its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in May, is slated for U.S. release to theaters November 14.

Du Pont, an avid stamp collector and an heir to the du Pont chemical fortune, bought the stamp for $935,000 in the 1980 auction.

According to du Pont's will – amended a month before his death and unsuccessfully challenged by several parties – 80 percent of the sale proceeds go to the family of Bulgarian wrestler Valentin Jordanov Dimitrov and 20 percent goes to the Eurasian Pacific Wildlife Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based group founded by du Pont to support Pacific wildlife, “USA Today” reported in a pre-auction story.