You Could Be the Proud New Owner of the World-Famous Inverted Jenny – Position 27 from the Original Sheet of 100, Sound with Very Fine Centering
The Inverted Jenny may be the most recognized error stamp in the world. Mystic has had the privilege of owning several over the years including the unique Plate-Number Block… So when the position 27 stamp came up for auction in July 2019 (the first time this example has been at auction since 1990), it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. We’re happy to say our bid won and Mystic is excited to share this special rarity with you.
This Inverted Jenny features deep rich colors, full original gum with minor hinge remnant, “Sanabria N.Y.” handstamp on the reverse side, and very fine centering. Considering how many stamps from the original error sheet of 100 were mishandled over the years, a desirable sound copy, like position 27, is a collector’s dream come true. That’s why the included 2019 Philatelic Foundation certificate of authenticity (#558675) is so important – it makes the dream a reality.
Have you been waiting for the chance to own an Inverted Jenny stamp for yourself? You’d be among position 27’s prestigious past owners William T. Robey (the original buyer of the Inverted Jenny sheet), Eugene Klein, Colonel Edward H.R. Green, Carlton Smith, Caroline P. Cromwell, and Irwin Weinberg. We’d hate to see position 27 go, but the feeling of satisfaction we’d get upon helping a fellow collector achieve their dream would make it all worth it. Call for pricing.
Want to add a Jenny Invert to your collection without breaking the bank? Buy a faithful reproduction of the stamp here.
Or get the special commemorative sheet of 6 Jenny Invert stamps released by USPS in 2013 – printed using the same dies as the original stamp!
Read on to learn the full story of the Inverted Jenny error stamps...
The possibility of airmail delivery in the United States was debated for almost a decade before Postmaster General Burleson suddenly announced the first flight would be from Washington, DC, to New York City on May 15, 1918.
At first the Post Office Department denied rumors that a new stamp would be issued to cover the new Airmail rate. Postal authorities initially wanted to use regular postage stamps, but no available issues included a 24¢ denomination. Instead, the decision was made to produce a patriotic red, white, and blue stamp to inaugurate the revolutionary service and lift war-weary spirits. It was the first bi-colored US stamp since the 1901 Pan-American Exposition commemoratives.
The formal request for the 24¢ airmail stamp reached the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) less than two weeks before the first scheduled flight. Using a War Department photo, BEP veteran Clair Aubrey Huston designed the new stamp. The BEP’s “Spider” flat press was used, printing sheets of 100 stamps each rather than the typical 400-stamp sheets. Because the stamps were bi-colored, every sheet was fed through the press twice – first to print the red frame and a second time to print the blue vignette. In the end, the understaffed BEP worked around the clock to finish the stamps in time.
On Friday, May 10, the BEP began printing sheets with the plate number “8492” in the top selvage. Late Saturday afternoon, the printing plates and ink were changed and the preprinted red frames were fed through the press again to add the blue Jenny vignette and plate number “8493.” To allow the 100-stamp sheets to fit in postal clerks’ storage, the top selvage of the 24¢ Airmail stamp sheets was cut away during perforation. As a result, all non-error sheets of the first printing feature a straight edge at the top and no plate numbers or plate-maker’s initials.
With the tight deadline met, the new stamps were placed on sale earlier than promised (late afternoon, May 13, 1918). Unknown at the time, nine sheets had been fed through the printing press upside down, creating an inverted vignette and positioning the plate number on the bottom selvage. Eight sheets were later found in the BEP office and destroyed. However, one sheet made its way to a single post office in Washington, DC…
Discovery of the Famous Error
Stamp collector William Robey eagerly awaited the first airmail flights. The young Washington, DC, resident planned to exchange covers with special “first trip” postmarks with fellow collectors at the other two points of the tri-city route. At 29 years old, Robey was an experienced stamp collector and knew the potential for inverts associated with bi-color printing. On the same day printing began, Robey advised a fellow collector, “It might interest you to know that there are two parts to design, one an insert into the other, like the Pan-American issues. I think it would pay to be on the lookout for inverts on account of this.”
Unaware that the first 24¢ airmail stamps had been distributed and placed on the sale the afternoon of May 13, 1918, Robey planned a special trip to the post office on the morning of May 14. The young office clerk withdrew $30 from his bank account (more than $1,600 in today’s wages) to purchase a full sheet of the new stamps.
Shortly after noon, Robey entered the New York Avenue post office in Washington and asked for a sheet of 24¢ Airmail stamps. When the clerk placed the sheet on the counter, Robey was shocked to see the vignettes were inverted. (He later said his “heart stood still” at that moment.) After paying for the sheet, Robey asked the clerk if he had any additional sheets. The clerk apparently realized something was amiss, closed his window, and contacted his supervisor.
Robey searched other post offices in Washington for inverts but was unsuccessful. He returned to his office and shared the news with a fellow stamp collector who immediately left to search for himself. His activities alerted authorities, who immediately halted sales of the 24¢ Airmail stamp in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York City as they searched for other errors. They tracked down Robey and arrived at his office less than an hour after he returned from the post office. The officials threatened to confiscate the inverts, but Robey stood firm.
Because the 24¢ Airmail stamps were still in production, the BEP reacted quickly to prevent further printing errors.
Robey Seeks a Buyer for the Inverted Jenny Sheet
Robey’s actions in the hours following his purchase of the Inverted Jenny sheet suggest he never intended to keep the stamps. He immediately contacted Washington stamp dealer Hamilton F. Coleman, who offered to buy the sheet for $500 (about $28,000 today). Robey decided to take his chances, and declined the offer. Although invert errors are generally highly valued, the extent of the BEP’s error was unclear that afternoon, so no one knew exactly how scarce or valuable Robey’s sheet was. Many who searched post offices upon hearing Robey’s news incorrectly assumed the stamps had been printed in traditional sheets of 400 before being cut into panes of 100. Had this been true, at least three more panes of 100 would have existed, greatly diminishing the value of Robey’s sheet.
After riding the streetcars for hours considering his options, Robey returned home under cover of darkness. Mindful of the government’s threats and the potential value of his stamps, Robey and his wife slept with their new-found treasure hidden under their bed. Fearful more sheets would appear, Robey wrote to New York dealer Elliott Perry to inform Perry of his intent to sell the stamps. Perry answered with a request to retain the right to purchase the sheet in exchange for a $1 deposit, allowing him to match the highest offer, but Robey didn’t receive the reply in time.
On Thursday, May 16, Robey met with dealer Percy Mann, who offered $10,000 for the sheet. Robey refused this offer as well and traveled to New York City the next day. Once there, Robey spent all Saturday attempting to sell his sheet. He even stopped at the office of Colonel Edward H.R. Green, but the multi-millionaire stamp collector was out of town. As the day progressed, Robey received an offer of $250 from Eustace Power of Stanley Gibbons, an offer to sell the sheet on commission from Scott Stamp and Coin Company, and a $2,500 offer from John Klemann of Nassau Stamp Company.
Discouraged, Robey telegraphed Percy Mann in Philadelphia to tell him he would be returning home Sunday without a match to his offer of $10,000 and had decided to withdraw his stamps from the market. Mann encouraged him to make a brief stop in Philadelphia on his way. Mann took him to meet Eugene Klein, Philadelphia’s most prominent stamp dealer. Klein was internationally known and, at the time, was also the official expert of the American Philatelic Society. Klein asked Robey to name his price. Robey asked for $15,000 and promised not to sell the stamps to anyone else before 3:00 p.m. the following day, May 20.
Before the deadline came, Hamilton Colman contacted Robey with an offer of $18,000 – 36 times the original offer he’d extended six days earlier. However, a deal had been struck with Klein, and Robey sold his 24¢ stamp sheet to Klein for $15,000. The sheet was delivered to Klein’s Philadelphia office on May 21, 1918.
Past Owners of the Inverted Jenny Stamps
After Klein acquired Robey’s sheet, he sold it to Colonel Edward H.R. Green for $20,000. News that Colonel Green had paid such an enormous figure (more than $1,600,000 today) was greeted with much skepticism from the public. But Colonel Green had a bank account large enough to purchase anything that struck his fancy. The Colonel was rather haphazard at times – although the Jenny Invert was widely reported in the media, he is said to have thought he was buying a sheet of 1901 2¢ Pan-American inverts.
Green reportedly asked Klein how the sheet was to fit into his stamp album and, whether the question was serious or in jest, the course of philatelic history was forever changed by Klein’s answer. The dealer suggested fellow stamp collectors would benefit – and Green would recoup his purchase cost – if he sold some single stamps from the sheet. The Colonel agreed to break up the sheet. Before doing so, Klein lightly numbered each stamp in pencil. This simple action allowed four generations of stamp collectors to trace the ownership of every Inverted Jenny. Colonel Green kept the plate-number block of eight, center line block, left arrow block of four, lower left corner block of four, and several individual stamps for himself (41 stamps total).
A law in place until 1938 prohibited publishing illustrations of US stamps, so the Colonel’s sale of individual Inverted Jenny stamps gave the public its first glimpse of the rarities. As a result, demand for the errors skyrocketed.
Eugene Klein acted as Green’s agent in dispersing individual stamps. By the end of July 1918, Klein had sold most of them. Legendary philatelist Benjamin K. Miller purchased one of the first Inverts (position #18) offered for sale. “I got in early and bought one for $250 and commission,” said Miller. Owning the Jenny Invert inspired Miller to pursue other rare and valuable US stamps, and he devoted 10 years to building the most complete 19th century stamp collection in history.
Sale prices for the Inverted Jenny climbed steadily when they began to be offered for resale. Even the Great Depression couldn’t stop the upward spiral. In 1931, Klein sold John Klemann a copy for $2,360 – nearly the amount Klemann had offered Robey for the entire sheet 13 years earlier. The estate of legendary stamp collector Arthur Hind sold his block of four to Ethel McCoy for $16,000 in 1936, establishing a new record at $4,000 per stamp. However, the real test of the stamp market came in 1944 when the Colonel’s estate sold his celebrated stamp collection.
Green’s Collection is Auctioned
For 26 years, Colonel Green held nearly half of all Jenny Inverts in his private collection. Green never exhibited the stamps, and had told some far-fetched stories about them. With Green’s 1936 death came worries about the impact an estate sale featuring 41 inverts would have on the stamp market. Collectors ended up having to wait while four states fought over the right to claim inheritance tax from Green’s estate.
In 1939, the US Supreme Court declared Massachusetts as Green’s state of residence and allowed it to collect $6 million in taxes on his estate. The bulk of the Colonel’s estate went to his sister Sylvia, a childless widow who kept more than $31 million in an interest-free bank account. With the winds of World War II swirling and no financial reasons for urgency, Sylvia and the Colonel’s executors decided to hold trial auctions to test the philatelic market. If the first auctions went well, they planned to sell Green’s entire collection.
In the end, Green’s collection comprised 50,000 lots and was sold in a series of 21 auctions. From there, the various Inverted Jenny stamps had many different owners around the world and are still some of the most highly-sought US stamps today.