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There is Always More to a Story – The Upside Down Plane

October 1, 2019

Sometimes, there is more to a story … which is the case for a recent sale of a block of Inverted Jenny stamps. Between 1912 and 1913, the United States post office decided to experiment with a new service – airmail.  It met with success, and the service became available between Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York City for the cost of 24 cents, much higher than the 3 cents first-class mail price.

On May 10, 1918, the Post Office issued the Jenny Airmail stamp which featured an image of the Curtiss JN-4 airplane. The stamps were printed in a great rush and since it involved two colors, it had to be placed on the printing bed twice, thus prone to errors – hence, the creation of the Inverted Jenny stamps — the most famous error in American philately.

Knowledgeable collectors were on the lookout since printing errors had occurred in the past. William T. Robey was one of the collectors on the lookout and unbelievably purchased a sheet containing 100 stamps that were printed incorrectly (the plane was upside down) for the face value of $24.00. He then sold them to a Philadelphia stamp dealer, Eugene Klein, for $15,000 who in turn sold them to a private collector, Colonel Edward H.R. Green for $20,000. Green then gave Klein permission to break apart the sheet and sell off individual stamps and blocks of 4 on his behalf.

Today, these stamps are very rare as many have been lost or mishandled. In 2005 (before the financial crisis) a block of four sold for $2.7 M, most likely prompting the estimate of $2 – 3M for the unique center block of 4 stamps that recently came up for sale.  The block was offered by Nick Gross, a rock drummer, and son of billionaire Bill Gross, better known as the ‘Bond King.’ Bill Gross claims he had given each of his 3 children some of the inverted Jennys on the condition they would hold onto them for his grandchildren. Well, apparently Nick did not remember that stipulation and put his block up for sale. This particular block was in near perfect condition with the original glue almost fully intact and should have generated a great deal of interest. While I do not feel he should cry over the result…a mere $1.9M (w/p). I am sure the possibility of a potential lawsuit over the legitimacy of the sale put off some of the potential buyers. I guess we will soon see if his father decides to pursue the legitimacy of the sale.