There are no shortage of intriguing stories surrounding the colourful life of John E. du Pont (1938 to 2010). An American, heir to the famous Dupont family fortune, he was a multimillionaire philanthropist, who set up an Olympic wrestling training facility at his estate in Pennsylvania, and infamously was convicted of murder in 1997 for shooting an Olympic Gold medal wrestler, spent the rest of his days in prison, and his life was the subject of a Hollywood movie called ‘Foxcatcher’. The title derived from the name du Pont gave the wrestling team he headed up called ‘Team Foxcatcher’.
Lot 30017 – THE TWO CENTS: ONE OF TWO EXISTING SINGLE EXAMPLES IN PRIVATE HANDS – which has a famous, and even infamous Philatelic Pedigree, being in the collections of Philipp von Ferrary, Sir William B. Avery, Théodore Champion, King Farouk I, Ernest Hunt, René Berlingin and of course John E. du Pont.
He was an excentric character and it is widely documented he had his fair share of mental health issues, even pleading, unsuccessfully, not guilty for reasons of insanity at his murder trail. However, as well as being an accomplished ornithologist and conchologist, he was a top-flight philatelist, winner of five FIP Grand Prix awards during 1978 and 1986. And it was at AMERIPEX 86 in Chicago that his British Guiana collection won the Grand Prix International award. Of course he famously was the anonymous bidder in 1980 who purchased the British Guiana 1c Magenta for $935k, setting a new world record and infamously he continued to buy stamps from his jail cell, although he was never allowed to have them within the prison. As we all know in the philatelic world, the 1c Magenta was famously sold in 2014 for just under $10m, setting another world record and the remainder of his British Guiana collection was sold in the same year at auction by David Feldman SA, raising a record breaking Euros 6.5million, and infamously John E. du Pont’s Will left 80% of the proceeds of his stamp collection to the family of Bulgarian wrestler.
His philatelic achievements weren’t confined to the British colony in South America, he also assembled award winning collections of British North America and Samoa. It’s an eventful and in many ways a bittersweet stamp biography, in that such a talented philatelist, who possessed some of the world’s rarest stamps, and the world’s most famous stamp, and competed successfully at the very top of international philately, spent the last 13 years of his stamp collecting life without the ability to flick through the pages of either his stockbook or exhibits. His precious collection was separated for the duration of his incarceration, and he never knew that his bold incognito bid on the 1c Magenta would prove to be a shrewd purchase, realising ten-times his outlay, and the same could be said of his wider British Guiana collection which defied all expectations during the sales in Geneva in June 2014. The financial gain of these astonishing auction sales did not benefit du Pont and he would not know how famous the material he once owned would become; the philatelic pedigree of such items carrying weight in the realm of Provenance today, as illustrated in the upcoming auction of British Guiana on 14th October which features all the items sold in 2014 from the David Feldman SA sale, as well as many other rarities assembled by the buyer of du Pont’s collection.
Lot 30120 – THE “DU PONT” 4 CENTS MAGENTA VILLAGE COVER. One of only four 4 cents magenta covers recorded with a village postmark.
What a lot of people don’t know about du Pont infamously naming the wrestling team Foxcatcher, is that his father, William du Pont Jr (1896 to 1965), who incidentally was born in Surrey England – which is perhaps were John E. got his interest in British colonies – provided the inspiration for the name of his wrestling outfit, because Foxcatcher Farm was the adopted title his father named his racehorse breeding stables at Liseter Hall Farm. The former which became infamous, like its founder, the latter famous for breeding thoroughbred horses.
John E. du Pont became infamous due to his actions and then conviction. But he is a famous philatelist, who brought wealth, fame and an air of mystery to the world of stamps and without doubt placed an indelible mark upon the hobby. As a consequence, he’s left a thoroughbred legacy within any auction catalogue that displays material from his great collection, especially those of British Guiana. Simply put, du Pont is; ‘The Infamous Famous Philatelist’.
Next time on Legendary Collectors should be our Philatelic Explorer J H Harvey Pirie, who we’ve promised for some weeks now. But if, again, another legend takes the stage it will be worth the wait.
You can catch-up on the previous 26 legendary collectors by clicking the links: Legendary Collectors: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23, Part 24, Part 25, Part 26, and Part 27.