A block of four Inverted Jennys, America’s most famous postage stamp, could set a new world record price when it goes up for auction at Spink in New York this month.
The unique ‘centreline’ block of four has been described as “one of the greatest items in world philately”, and is expected to sell on September 27 for between $2 and $3 million.
Due to its famous printing error of an upside-down airplane, the Inverted Jenny is by far the most iconic U.S postage stamp ever produced.
It’s believed that just a single sheet of 100 stamps was misprinted during production in May 1918, and accidentally shipped out to a post office in Washington D.C – where it was purchased by collector William T. Robey for $24.
Robey had been in search of possible printing errors, but couldn’t believe his luck when presented with the entire sheet at the counter.
When the Post Office clerk was later asked why he didn’t spot the error, he replied simply: “How was I to know the thing was upside down? I never saw an airplane before.”
Robey quickly came under pressure to return the valuable sheet, and after briefly hiding it under his mattress he finally sold it intact to Philadelphia dealer Eugene Klein for $15,000.
Klein in turn sold it to the wealthy collector ‘Colonel’ H. R. Green for $20,000, and Green broke up the sheet – keeping around half the stamps for himself and selling the rest either individually or in smaller blocks.
Each of the stamps was given a faint pencil number on the reverse, so that they could be tracked and authenticated in the future, and today there are six blocks of four known to exist.
The block offered at Spink comes from the exact centre of that single error sheet, with the original vertical and horizontal guide lines crossing in the middle.
It was once described as the “gem” of the entire Colonel Green collection, and has sold at auction just three times in its 101-year history.
Its last appearance on the block was at Christies in 1991, where it sold for $550,000, but its current estimate could see it achieve a new world record, surpassing another block of four which sold in 2005 for $2.7 million.
The Spink sale will also include a single example of the stamp, which took position 39 on the original sheet.
Well-centred with large margins, even perforations and its original gum on the reverse, the stamp is one of the finest-known single examples of the Inverted Jenny in existence, and comes with an estimate of approximately $675,000.
The current record price for a single Inverted Jenny stamp was set back in November 2018, when another mint example sold at Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries for $1,593,000.