With snail mail now taking a back seat to electronic forms of communication such as e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, it will be interesting to see if the hobby of stamp collecting will also slowly start to wither and possibly even disappear.
I was a casual stamp collector in my early teenage years, as my father had been collecting Australian stamps for many years. I found stamps interesting, because of the way that they gave an insight into the countries that produced particular stamps. There are many ways to collect stamps, such as by country, or by a theme, eg sports, famous people. Another area of interest is stamps that are rare, unusual or have an error in them. In philately, there is a term for these types of stamps – errors, freaks or oddities (EFOs).
Some of these stamps are incredibly rare, due to the error and because production is usually quickly stopped once the error was noticed. One of the most famous of these errors is the United States “Inverted Jenny” 24c stamp of 1918.
The United States decided to issue a new stamp to commemorate the first regular airmail service between New York, Washington DC and Philadelphia. The stamp featured the Curtiss “Jenny” trainer, which was the aircraft used to transport the mail.
The stamp was produced quickly to meet the deadline for the first flight, and involved the sheets of stamps having to be fed through the printing presses twice, due to the two colours featured.
This left often the possibility of an error being made where a pane could be inverted during the printing process, and this is what happened. A pane of 100 stamps was printed with the aircraft being inverted, as seen below.
Stamp collectors were aware of the possibility of an inverted issue, and William T Robey of Washington DC went to his local post office on the morning of May 14, to see if he could possibly purchase a sheet of the incorrect stamps. To Robey’s shock, the assistant behind the counter showed him a sheet of 100 stamps, each with the Jenny inverted. Robey wrote to a friend “that his heat stood still”. He immediately bought the sheet, and asked to see more, but they were normal. Robey had hit the jackpot – the only sheet of the stamp that had managed to make it through to sale to the public. A week after buying the stamps, Tobey sold them to a Philadelphia stamp collector for $15,000, who then sold them on to famous businessman Harold Green for $20,000. The sheet was broken up, either into single stamps or blocks of four or eight.
The postal worker who sold Robey the sheet defended himself by saying that he had no idea that the stamps were wrong – he had never seen an airplane!
When an “Inverted Jenny” comes up for auction, they sell for record amounts of money.
A block of four inverted Jennys was sold at an auction in October 2005 for US $2.7 million, while in December 2007 a mint example was sold for $825,000.