Auctioneer Scott R. Trepel (right) calls the sale of a rare 1918 U.S. stamp, the “Inverted Jenny” 24 cent airmail, on November 8 in New York City. The adhesive, believed the best of 100 examples known to exist, sold for …

Rare ‘Inverted Jenny’ stamp nabs record $2 million at New York auction

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An unspoiled copy of one of the rarest American stamps changed hands for a record $2 million on Wednesday, the New York auction house that sold the 1918 “Inverted Jenny” stamp said. The same stamp had sold for $1.6 million just five years earlier.

The 24-cent airmail stamp shows a Curtiss Jenny aircraft, printed upside down at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing because of an error. The rarity is one of the stamp-collecting hobby’s most notable pieces, since only 100 were ever found.

Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries said the price was the highest a single U.S. postage stamp has brought at auction. The price includes both the $1.7 million winning bid and the firm’s standard commission.

“This is a historic moment for the hobby,” said Scott Trepel, the auction firm’s president. “I believe that when this stamp comes to market again, it will sell for even more than it did [Wednesday].”

The auction house did not disclose the winning bidder’s name, other than to say the buyer was in the auction room when the winning bid was placed.

Issued in 1918, the airmail stamp — printed in carmine rose and blue ink — is distinguished by the upside-down picture of a Curtiss Jenny airplane created when printers at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing put at least one sheet upside down when one of the two colors was applied.

William T. Robey bought the 100-stamp error sheet for $24 at the 1317 New York Ave. NW station of what was then the U.S. Postal Office Department on May 14, 1918. A stamp collector himself, Robey and a friend kept an eye out for just such an invert, he later recalled.

Those 100 stamps changed hands six days later when Philadelphia stamp dealer Eugene Klein paid Robey $15,000, an amount worth about $325,000 today.

The stamp sold Wednesday, originally at position 49 on the 100-stamp sheet, is noted for the richness of its color, the centering of the design on the paper, and its never having had a glassine strip called a “hinge” applied to its gum. Instead, the stamp reportedly spent most of its first 100 years in the safe deposit box of the buyer and his heirs.

Two groups of stamp experts — the Philatelic Foundation and Professional Stamp Experts — each graded the stamp at 95 out of 100 points. Mr. Trepel said it was “the highest grade an Inverted Jenny [stamp] has ever or will ever receive. For the collector, it simply doesn’t get better than this.”

Scott English, executive director of the American Philatelic Society in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, said the auction price is “an indicator that the hobby’s health is still there.”

He said the lore of where the 100 error stamps journeyed after the 1918 purchase by Klein “makes it really remarkable. They all have the same origin story, but then they spread out. Each one has its own story to tell and no two journeys are the same when it comes to to where they are today and how they got there.”

A collector who once owned a block of four Inverted Jenny stamps with the printing plate number in the margin said the sale price was much higher than the price at its previous auction in 2018.

“The price strikes me as positive for stamps, especially rare stamps,” said Donald J. Sundman of Mystic Stamp Co. in Camden, New York. “It’s positive because the stamp sold and sold at a much higher price than its prior sale.”

Wednesday’s auction eclipsed earlier single-stamp auction records for classic and rare U.S. postage stamps. One of two known examples of an 1867 stamp depicting Abraham Lincoln embossed with a “Z Grill” pattern to prevent reuse was auctioned for $1.6 million in July 2019 by Cherrystone Philatelic Auctioneers in New York.

In 2021, a 1-cent stamp issued by British Guiana (now Guyana) sold for $8.3 million to the London stamp dealer company Stanley Gibbons Ltd., which has since offered digital shares in what is considered the world’s rarest postage stamp.

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