One Down, One More to Go

Its whereabouts unknown since the year it was issued, the 99th of 100 inverted bi-colored 24-cent Jenny airmail stamps has come to light, safely reposing in a bank vault and part of collection in Illinois. The story was reported September 6, 2018, by James Barron in The New York Times(“An Inverted Jenny Surfaces. The Flawed Stamp Had Not Been Seen Since 1918.”)

The stamp surfaced and the story came to light when Curator Lewis Kaufman identified it from a cellphone image sent to the Philatelic Foundation in New York City. Very lightly penciled numerals on the back of the stamp confirmed Kaufman’s suspicion that it was number 49 from the discovery sheet of 100 of this error, Scott C3a, in which the blue central vignette showing the biplane had been printed upside-down with respect to the carmine rose outer frame.

The best-known American stamp error by far is also one of the most sought-after of all American issues. It has a 2018 Scott catalog value of $450,000, which soars to $850,000 in mint, never-hinged condition.

PF Executive Director Larry Lyons called the owner back and confirmed the identity of the stamp. According to Lyons, “A great-uncle apparently bought it after the sheet of 100 was broken up, and after the great-uncle died, the great-aunt left it to the man’s mother in the 1930s.

The long-awaited re-emergence of No. 49 leaves the whereabouts of only one inverted Jenny unknown, as it has been since the block of four from which it was broken was stolen from a stamp show in 1955 in Norfolk, Virginia. Its owner was Ethel Stewart McCoy, daughter of one of the co-founders of Dow Jones & Co.

The Breaking of the McCoy Block

After the theft, the block of four was separated into four single stamps to make them harder for potential buyers to recognize as stolen. In 1958, the first of these came to light as belonging to a stamp dealer from northeastern Illinois, although there was apparently not enough evidence to charge him with possession of stolen goods. Because Ethel McCoy transferred her ownership rights for the stolen block over to the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL), it took possession of the recovered stamp, and for the second stolen Jenny broken from her block that was identified in 1982.

The third of the four singles was discovered turned at Spink USA, a Manhattan auction house, in April 2016, delivered to the head of Spink’s philatelic department by Keelin O’Neill, a young man from Northern Ireland who had emailed him previously. The story he told was that had recognized the potential value of the invert among a box of stamps his grandfather had had left to him in 2001.

In Siegel Auction Galleries May 11, 2017, the third of the recovered Jenny Inverts opened in the bidding at $120,000, and quickly more than doubled. It was hammered down at $295,000, including the buyer’s premium of 18 percent.

$60,000 Reward Awaits

In 2014, the American Philatelic Research Library offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the last two purloined airmail errors, and prominent second-generation dealer and stamp hobby promoter Donald Sundman, president of Mystic Stamp Co., handsomely topped it with a reward of $50,000 for each stamp.

Now only one of these rare errors remains undiscovered: No. 66. Who will be the fortunate philatelist to find this last upside-down Jenny and claim the reward? Could it be…you?