1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta (Obverse Infrared)

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
June 4, 2015
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Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

1856 British Guiana One-Cent Magenta photograph using an infrared filter
This photograph of the 1856 One-Cent Magenta was taken using an infrared filter. This suppresses the stamp’s red surface, making the black printing more visible. Significant markings:

  • Damus Petimus Que Vicissim: British Guiana’s motto, derived from the Roman poet Horace. It means, “We give and we ask in return.”
  • Initials E.D.W.: Because the stamp could be replicated by anyone with access to printer’s type and a press, postal clerk Edmond D. Wight’s handwritten initials deterred counterfeiters.
  • Vignette: Shows a barque, a three-masted sailing ship common in the nineteenth century. Not meant to represent any particular ship, this illustration would have been available in many print shops.
  • Surface-colored paper: Created by adding a thin layer of color on top of a sheet of white paper. This method of coloring paper was cheap, but also prone to smudging.
  • Postmark: Dated April 4, 1856, it reads Demerara, but that is a county name. The stamp was printed, sold, and used at Georgetown, the colonial capital.
  • Corners: No one knows why the one-cent stamp’s rectangular corners were clipped. The four-cent exists in both clipped and intact examples.
  • Inscriptions: The stamp’s text reads British|Guiana.|Postage|One Cent. The Guianese dollar, consisting of one hundred cents, became the currency in 1839. One-cent stamps were for mailing newspapers; four-cent stamps were for letters. This may explain the one-cent stamp’s rarity; letters were more likely to be saved than newspapers.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian's National Postal Museum