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Story with Irwin Weinberg, Collector of Rare Stamps


While packing for a trip to Toronto in 1978, Irwin Weinberg sent his teenage son Jack to a military surplus store with instructions to buy a pair of handcuffs. On the plane, Mr. Weinberg quietly chained one of his own wrists to his briefcase.


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The handcuffs were a prop, a gimmick to get the attention of news photographers who had been alerted to his arrival — and to the arrival of the tiny item in the briefcase: the world’s most expensive postage stamp, the 1-cent magenta from British Guiana, issued in 1856. It was to be displayed at a stamp show in Toronto.

Mr. Weinberg, a stamp dealer and collector who died at 88 on May 2, bought the stamp in 1970 for a group of investors for $280,000, a record at the time. It is the only such stamp known to exist.

He went from the airport to a news conference for the stamp show, the Canadian Philatelic Exhibition. No one noticed that when he slipped the key into the handcuffs, it broke. “I thought, just keep talking and worry about it later,” Mr. Weinberg recalled in an interview in 2015.

After the news conference ended and the reporters dispersed, Mr. Weinberg told one of the stamp-show organizers that they had to find a way to free him. Security guards borrowed hairpins and tried paper clips. A firefighter who arrived produced a saw and was starting to cut into the handcuffs when the door opened and one of the reporters returned.

Mr. Weinberg, who liked to pull stunts to promote the stamp, said he remembered thinking, “This is exactly what I would want if I could dream up a thing like this.”

The story of the stamp, the handcuffs stunt and the struggle to shed the shackles was picked up around the world and in People magazine, which wrote that the steel was too thick for the firefighter’s hacksaw and that Mr. Weinberg was finally liberated with the help of a police officer’s key.

Mr. Weinberg died at his home in Kingston, Pa., said his daughter, Jan, who survives him along with his sons, John (who is known as Jack) and Robert.

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