Guyana is a country on the northern mainland of South America bordering Brazil, Venezuela and Suriname. Originally inhabited by many indigenous tribes, the country was occupied by Dutch settlers during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, British control began in 1796 and the settlement named its capital city of Georgetown in honour of King George III.
In 1850, the first letterpress four-cent, eight-cent and sixteen-cent circular stamps were crudely printed on coloured paper by the Royal Gazette newspaper. The name ‘cotton reels’ was derived from their resemblance to labels on wooden spools of cotton. This atypical method of printing created stamps that look less refined.
The extremely rare two-cent was introduced in 1851. Their crude design meant that forgeries could be easily made and so the Postmaster or the Post Office clerks were instructed to inscribe the stamps were their initials.
Printers Waterlow & Sons began printing stamps for the colony in 1952. For 60 years, the design included a three-mast sailing ship along with the colony's Latin motto "Damus Petimus Que Vicissim," meaning "We give and expect in return," with four lines framing the engraving.
In 1856, a shortage of official stamps from London tasked the local postmaster with creating replacement printings. So, using the Royal Gazette newspaper's moveable type, provisional issues were created-- one-cent stamps for daily newspapers and four-cent stamps for private letters. Over time, most of the stamps were removed from circulation.
The only remaining example had a long-winded ownership history. From being discovered by a budding collector in Guyana and even once being owned by the world's most famous stamp collector Count Philippe la Renotière von Ferrary to its most recent owner, chemical company heir and murderer John E. du Pont; every philatelist longs to see it.
On 17 June 2014, it was sold for $7.9 million and has broken the world record for a single stamp auction price each of the last four times it has been sold.
The philatelic history can be complicated because of the variety of provisional issues, surcharges and change of monarchical figures. However, research into these areas is available and known to collectors.