Inverted Jenny

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Inverted Jenny
US Airmail inverted Jenny 24c 1918 issue.jpg
Country of production United States
Date of production May 10, 1918 (1918-05-10)
Depicts Curtiss JN-4
Nature of rarity Invert error
Number in existence 100
Face value 24 US¢
Estimated value US $977,500[1]

The Inverted Jenny (also known as an Upside Down Jenny or Jenny Invert) is a United States postage stamp first issued on May 10, 1918 in which the image of the Curtiss JN-4 airplane in the center of the design appears upside-down; it is probably the most famous error in American philately. Only one pane of 100 of the invert stamps was ever found, making this error one of the most prized in all philately. A single inverted Jenny was sold at a Robert A. Siegel auction in November 2007 for US $977,500.[1] In December 2007 a mint never hinged example was sold for $825,000. The broker of the sale said the buyer was a Wall Street executive who lost the auction the previous month.[2] A block of four inverted Jennys was sold at a Robert A. Siegel auction in October 2005 for US $2.7 million.[3] In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, prices fetched by Inverted Jennys have receded. Between January and September of 2014, five examples offered at auction sold for sums ranging from $126,000 through $575,100. [4]


During the 1910s, the United States Post Office had made a number of experimental trials of carrying mail by air, and decided to inaugurate regular service on May 15, 1918, flying between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. The Post Office set a controversial rate of 24 cents for the service, much higher than the 3 cents for first-class mail of the time, and decided to issue a new stamp just for this rate, patriotically printed in red and blue, and depicting a Curtiss Jenny, the biplane chosen to shuttle the mail.

The job of designing and printing the new stamp was carried out in a great rush; engraving only began on May 4, and stamp printing on May 10 (a Friday), in sheets of 100 (contrary to the usual practice of printing 400 at a time and cutting into 100-stamp panes). Since the stamp was printed in two colors, each sheet had to be fed through the printing press twice, an error-prone process that had resulted in invert errors in stamps of 1869 and 1901, and at least three misprinted sheets were found during the production process and were destroyed. It is believed that only one misprinted sheet of 100 stamps got through unnoticed, and stamp collectors have spent the ensuing years trying to find them all.

Many collectors long thought the blue plane portion was printed first, thus it was actually the red frames that were inverted. However, research by noted philatelic authors Henry Goodkind and George Amick shows this to be incorrect; in fact, the frames were printed first and it is the planes that are upside down. In examples where the plane is so far off center that it overlaps the frames, it can be seen that the blue ink used to print the plane lies atop the red ink used to print the frames. The Smithsonian's National Postal Museum offers two explanations for how this might have occurred: either a sheet of printed frames was fed into the press upside down for the printing of the plane; or the printing plate used to print the planes was mounted inverted within the printing press.[5]

Initial deliveries went to post offices on Monday, May 13. Aware of the potential for inverts, a number of collectors went to their local post offices to buy the new stamps and keep an eye out for errors. Collector William T. Robey was one of those; he had written to a friend on May 10 mentioning that "it would pay to be on the lookout for inverts". On May 14, Robey went to the post office to buy the new stamps, and as he wrote later, when the clerk brought out a sheet of inverts, "my heart stood still". He paid for the sheet, and asked to see more, but the remainder of the sheets were normal.

Additional details of the day's events are not entirely certain—Robey gave three different accounts later—but he began to contact both stamp dealers and journalists, to tell them of his find. After a week that included visits from postal inspectors who tried to buy it back, and the hiding of the sheet under his mattress, Robey sold the sheet to noted Philadelphia dealer Eugene Klein for US$15,000. Klein then immediately resold the sheet to "Colonel" H. R. Green, son of Hetty Green, for US$20,000.

Klein advised Green that the stamps would be worth more separately than as a single sheet, and Green went along; a block of eight and several blocks of four were broken from the sheet, with the remainder of the stamps sold individually. Green kept a number of the inverts, including one that was placed in a locket for his wife. This gold and glass locket displayed the inverted Jenny on one side, and a "regular" Jenny stamp on the other. This locket was offered for sale for the first time ever by the Siegel Auction Galleries Rarity Sale, held on May 18, 2002. It did not sell in the auction, but the philatelic press reported that a Private Treaty sale was arranged later for an unknown price.

The philatelic literature has long stated that seven of the stamps have been lost or destroyed through theft or mishandling. However, this statement is inaccurate. In 2007, a copy came to light that had not been seen since Eugene Klein broke up the sheet, and was offered for auction that June. The number of lost stamps then became six. Several others have been damaged, including one that was sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Apparently Green's wife mailed one which, while recovered, is the only cancelled sample. Indeed, no Jenny invert is in pristine condition, because Klein lightly penciled a number on the back of each stamp (from 1 through 10 in the top row to 91 through 100 in the bottom row) so that its original position on the sheet could be identified.[6][7]

A famous stamp[edit]

Aside from having the biplane printed upside down, the inverted Jenny has become famous for other reasons as well. Benjamin K. Miller, one of the early buyers of these inverts, 10 in all, bought the stamp for $250. Miller's inverted Jenny was stolen in 1977 but was recovered in the early 1980s though, unfortunately, the top perforations had been cut off to prevent it from being recognized as the stolen Miller stamp. (A genuine straight-edged copy would have cost Miller only $175.) However, that stolen and missing stamp served to drive the value of the other 99 examples even higher. That inverted Jenny was the main attraction in the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's 'Rarity Revealed' exhibition, 2007-2009. The "Inverted Jenny" was the most requested postage stamp for viewing by visitors at the museum.[8] It should be noted that philatelic forgers have mutilated at least three additional inverted Jennys, disfiguring them with false perforations at the top (these were copies from the first horizontal row of the sheet, all of which originally had a straight edge at the top).[9]

A rare swap[edit]

The inverted Jenny plate block of four (note that the blue plate number is inverted as well)

In late October 2005 the unique plate number block of four stamps was purchased by a then anonymous buyer for $2,970,000. The purchaser was revealed to be U.S. financier Bill Gross. Shortly after purchasing the Inverted Jennys he proceeded to trade them with Donald Sundman, president of the Mystic Stamp Company, a stamp dealer, for one of only two known examples of the USA 1c Z Grill. By completing this trade, Gross became the owner of the only complete collection of U.S. 19th century stamps.[10]

2006 find[edit]

In November 2006, election workers in Broward County, Florida claimed to have found an Inverted Jenny affixed to an absentee ballot envelope. The sender did not include any identification with the ballot, which automatically disqualified the ballot.[11] Peter Mastrangelo, executive director of the American Philatelic Society, observed that the stamp was at variance with known copies, due in part to its perforations, although the colors had been reproduced accurately.[12] Further investigations, published in the following month, confirmed that the stamp was a postal forgery.[13]

The forgery on cover

2013 reprint[edit]

To honor stamp collecting, on September 22, 2013 the United States Postal Service issued a souvenir sheet showing six examples of the stamp denominated $2 each rather than the original 24 cents.[14] The issue was sold at face value, although various special packagings for collectors were also offered for a premium.[15]

The Postal Service announced it has also printed 100 sheets of "corrected Jenny sheets" — the plane flying right side up. All sheets of the stamp are individually wrapped in a sealed envelope to recreate the excitement of finding an Inverted Jenny when opening the envelope and to avoid the possibility of discovering a corrected Jenny prior to purchase. Individuals purchasing “corrected Jenny sheets” will find a congratulatory note inside the wrapping asking them to call a phone number to receive a certificate of acknowledgement signed by Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.[16] In June 2014, a non-invert sheet offered in Siegel Auctions' "Rarities of the World" sale fetched a price of $45,000. [17]

StampWants giveaway[edit]

As covered in Linn's Stamp News, on January 12, 2008, (an online marketplace for stamps, now known as gave away an inverted Jenny, after a year long promotion the company ran. This represented the most expensive stamp ever given away in any sort of promotion. The winner of the giveaway was John Shedlock, of California, and the stamp was presented to him by the then current Miss New Jersey, Amy Polumbo.[18]

See also[edit]

References and sources[edit]

  1. ^ a b "The 1918 24¢ Inverted “Jenny”". Sale 946a. Robert A. Siegel. 2007-11-14. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  2. ^ Weber, Paul J. (2007-12-27). "Rare 'Jenny' Stamp Sells for $825,000". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2014-03-08. 
  3. ^ "Inverted "Jenny" Plate Block Sells for $2.7 Million hammer!" (PDF). 2005-10-19. p. 32. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  4. ^ The New York Times, September 15, 2014, p. A13.
  5. ^ "USPS Unveils Inverted Jenny Stamp". National Postal Museum. 2013-01-18. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  6. ^ The Inverted Jenny
  7. ^ Siegel power search
  8. ^ Ganz, Cheryl (2008-09-26). "24c Curtiss Jenny invert single". National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2013-09-28. 
  9. ^ The 1918 24¢ Inverted “Jenny” (Siegel Auction catalogue, Sale 1010A, June 18, 2011, p. 18: photographic reconstruction of the Inverted “Jenny” Sheet [six stamp-images missing])
  10. ^ Schmid, Randolph E. (2005-05-25). "Rare and Costly Stamps to Go on Display". Washington Post. Retrieved 2006-08-08. 
  11. ^ "Expert stamps out hopes of rare postage find". 2006-12-04. Retrieved 2009-04-05. 
  12. ^ Zaloudek, Mark (2006-11-15). "Stamp with ballot may be a fake 'Jenny'". Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2007-01-15. 
  13. ^ "Stamp used on Florida ballot a fake". Reuters. 2006-12-04. Retrieved 2007-01-15. 
  14. ^ 2013 "2013 New U.S. Stamp Issues". American Philatelic Society. 9 September 2013. Retrieved 2013-09-09. 
  15. ^ Rarest Stamp Error in U.S. History, Inverted Jenny, Flies Again
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Miss New Jersey to Present Giveaway of Rare $400,000 Stamp by at APS Ameristamp Expo". PR Newswire. 2008-12-17. Retrieved 2014-01-08.