Nearly 150 years ago, officials unveiled a revolutionary stamp series produced by the National Bank Note Company. For the first time in American postal history, designs other than portraits of national leaders were pictured on a U.S. stamp. The Pictorial Series also featured the first bi-color U.S. stamps.
The public was underwhelmed by the stamps and criticized the designs as being frivolous. But 19th-century collectors soon found a reason to love them…
Bi-color printing was done in two steps. The central design (vignette) was printed first. The stamp sheet was then placed back on the flat press and the frame was added. In a few cases, human error led to the sheet being placed on the press backwards. The result – the first inverted stamps in U.S. history!
This error occurred in three Pictorial issues, including the 15¢ Landing of Columbus. Of 1,376,700 U.S. #119 stamps produced, only 93 inverts are known – making them even more scarce than the famous Jenny Inverts.
At the time it was issued, the Pictorial Series was a failure with the general public and the stamps quickly went off sale. But collectors overall enjoyed the series and the inverts were especially sought-after.
Those feelings have only increased in the last 146 years. When Don Sundman and Janet Klug polled collectors, philatelic journalists and other experts for the “100 Greatest American Stamps,” the 1869 Pictorial Inverts were ranked #17.
The #119b stamp currently has a catalogue value of $22,500 in used condition. Only three of the 93 Landing of Columbus inverts are known in mint condition – and they’re valued at $1,000,000 each!