Inverted Jenny - The Story Behind a Rare Find
Postage stamps aren’t just items you place on envelopes so that these can be air-mailed to choice destinations and recipients. Stamps are also treasures that can be collected and used to tell a story or explain a country’s history. Take the case of the popular ‘Inverted Jenny’ stamp, also known as Jenny Invert and Upside Down Jenny. This is one stamp that tells a loaded story, a story that has been told and retold, each retelling adding to its charm and overall value. This stamp is now considered the most famous (and sought-after) stamp in American philately and for all the right reasons. The stamp has been sold and resold for large sums of money, including the block of four ‘Jenny’ stamps that sold for US $2.7 million in 2005! This stamp is rare, treasured and valuable, but how familiar are you with its story?
How the ‘Jenny’ was Designed and Printed
It was during the early 1900's when the US Post Office decided to try different experiments on how to carry its increasing number of mails. By May 15, 1918, a regular service was inaugurated covering the cities of Washington, Philadelphia and New York. As part of the service, the postal office then charged a rate of 24 cents, higher than the prevailing mail rates. A new stamp was also issued designed in red and blue depicting a plane - the Curtiss Jenny, that will carry the mails between these cities.
The design and printing of the new stamp was rushed, and the engraving was done on May 4th, with the actual printing starting six days later. The plan was to print the new stamps in sheets of 100, to be printed in two colors. Because of the complexity of the design, early errors were reported since each sheet was fed into the press twice. Due to the complex dual printing process, three sheets were printed in error and were destroyed immediately. However, one sheet that was printed in error went unnoticed, and this sheet soon became the hot topic for collectors looking to collect something of value.
The initial concern was that the error was on the red frames, which were inverted. But further investigation revealed that it was in fact the planes that were printed in an inverted manner. According to Smithsonian National Postal Museum, there are two probable reasons why the inverted design was printed. First - there’s a chance that the sheet was fed upside down. Second - the plate must have been mounted in an inverted manner.
On May 13th, the stamps were delivered to postal offices and some informed hobbyists and collectors trooped to postal offices to purchase these errors. One collector, William T. Robey, joined the hunt. On May 14th he decided to visit a post office to buy a stamp and he was shown some stamps with the inverted designs. When he asked for more, he noticed that all others were printed normally.
This discovery started a mad rush to find the rest, with collectors realizing the possibility of owning a rare error that will soon become one of the world’s most treasured stamps.