The “Inverted Jenny” Air Mail Stamp Will Land in Sacramento, August 16, for America’s Stamp Club’s Annual Show

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The American Philatelic Society will display one of the historic “Inverted Jenny” stamps at StampShow 2012, August 16–19, at the Sacramento Convention Center. The “Inverted Jenny,” otherwise known as the upside-down airplane stamp, is one of America’s rarest stamps. A single Inverted Jenny was sold at an auction in June 2005 for $525,000. A block of four Inverted Jennys was sold for $2.7 million in October 2005.

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An "Inverted Jenny," the historic upside-down airplane stamp will be on display at StampShow, August 16-19.

A fellow asked for a sheet of air mails and I handed him one without looking at it. And anyway, how was I to know the thing was upside down? I never saw a plane before. — Postal Clerk who sold the sheet.

For such a tiny piece a paper, the “Jenny” has a huge history. On May 6, 1818, Congress authorized the United States Post Office to print air mail stamps with a rate of 24-cents and have them ready for sale several days prior to the official inaugural air mail flight on May 15. No easy task.

Three groups would play vital roles in this venture: the U.S. Army Air Corps would provide the plane and the pilot, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing would produce the goods, and, of course, the United States Post Office would supply the mail. With less than two weeks to deliver the stamps, work started immediately designing and printing the first air mail stamps. The design featured a two-seater military biplane created to train American army pilots, the Curtiss JN-4, thus the name Jenny.

In addition to the time factor, Congress wanted the stamp to be printed in not one but two colors — red and blue. To accomplish this, the Bureau had to revert to an older “Spider” press that would print 100 stamps to a sheet. Two passes through the press were necessary to complete the red and blue design. The first air mail stamps went on sale May 13, 1918. No one knew that out of the two million stamps printed, there were 100 gems.

No one is exactly sure how the Invert happened. It could have occurred when the printing plate was removed between impressions and was accidentally rotated when put back. Or it could have occurred when the assistant pressman was stacking the sheets after the red print run and inadvertently rotated one 180 degrees.

William T. Robey now becomes part of history. On his lunch hour, this stockbroker’s clerk and stamp collector went to the post office on New York Avenue near 13th Street in Washington, DC to buy some of the newly issued air mail stamps. Being an avid collector, he recognized the printing error immediately. Stamps without perforations or upside-down designs have a way of catching a collector’s eye! When the clerk put the sheet down on the counter, Robey’s heart skipped a beat. Instead of buying a couple of stamps, he bought the whole sheet.

Upon returning to work, Robey told some friends about his find. Several co-workers immediately went to the post office to buy their own upside-down airplane stamps. A few hours later, postal inspectors were asking Robey to sell the stamps back to them. When he declined, they threatened to confiscate them. Robey went home and hid his treasure under his mattress. Knowing official pressure would increase, he contacted some dealers and ultimately sold the sheet to Eugene Klein for $15,000. Klein immediately sold it Colonel Edward Green for $20,000. The saga of the “Jenny Inverts” had begun.

“Jenny Inverts” have been bought, sold, donated, stolen, swept up by a vacuum cleaner, featured in movie plots, encased in a locket, and even wounded. During the Battle of Britain in September 1940, German bombers raided central London. The Inverted Jenny owned by John Crichton-Stuart was stored at the Chancery Lane Safe Depository. After the bombing, the albums in the storage room were under three feet of water. A month later, the Inverted Jenny was found. It had lost its gum, but otherwise was in good shape.

In addition to the “Inverted Jenny,” other rarities will be on display during StampShow at the Sacramento Convention Center, 1400 J Street. The doors open daily at 10 a.m. and admission is free! Thursday, Friday, and Saturday the show runs until 6 p.m.; Sunday until 4 p.m.

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Barbara Boal
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