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by Mick the Ram
A rare postage stamp dating back to 1918 and which originally cost 24 cents, has sold at a New York City auction for $2m, creating a new record as the most expensive single US stamp ever sold.
Known as the “Inverted Jenny”, the stamp is famous for not just its rarity, being just one of 100 that created, but also because of it peculiarity in which the plane that is across it centre was actually printed upside down in error, adding to its collectability.
The stamp is extremely well-known in the US, helped significantly back in 1993 when it featured in an episode of the long-running American animated sitcom The Simpsons.
It was purchased by stamp collector Charles Hack.
The holy grail
The auction was conducted by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries on 8 November and 76-year-old Mr Hack explained that for stamp collectors this was classed as the “holy grail of postage”. He said he had been eyeing the coveted stamp since he was a child, so this was an incredibly special purchase for the experienced philatelist.
Not the buyers first Jenny
Mr Hack is actually himself the owner of several other Jennys from the original series. He purchased one in the early 2000’s for somewhere in the region of $300,000 and then upped his game in 2007, when he paid nearly $1 for another one that was in better shape. That one was numbered at 57 to be printed in the original sheet of 100.
Locked away for a century
What makes this new record holder so important is the almost perfect condition that it remains in, despite being over 100 years old. It was number 49 on the sheet, but has been out of reach for collectors due to the fact that it was held continuously in a vault by its purchaser and subsequent descendants, since its original purchase in 1918. A century later it was sold, before coming up for auction last week.
In their pre-sale description of the Inverted Jenny, the auction house wrote that the stamp was regarded as “one of the finest centred examples” of its kind, due to it hardly ever having been exposed to light. The write up continued: “The gum is Mint Never Hinged and, since its exposure to light has been limited, its colours are rich and the paper is bright.”
After the sale they put out a statement: “The Inverted Jenny we sold today is the best example of the 100 stamps from the original sheet. We have tracked each of the stamps and are certain no other example compares to this one. For the collector, it simply does not get any better than this and the sale price of over $2 million reflects that fact.”
As good as new
The stamp was reviewed by two expert organizations, who gave it a grade of 95 out of 100, declaring it effectively as being in the same condition as when it was sold 105 years ago.
Expensive error eventually
The Inverted Jenny stamp was part of a collection made to mark the start of regular airmail service and features an image of the Curtiss JN-4 airplane in the very centre. In the rush to get the commemorative design printed to coincide with the launch of the new airmail service, an error was made by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
All the other sheets with the image error were destroyed and over time it has become one of the most famous stamps in American history.
Homer misses out on a fortune
When it appeared in the season five episode of the Simpsons, Homer, in his typical manner, is seen examining a sheet of the Inverted Jennys before dismissing it as worthless, declaring: “The airplane’s upside down,” before tossing the full sheet away in a pile of other priceless American artefacts, which comically including a copy of the Declaration of Independence.
The elated Mr Hack was understandably thrilled with his purchase and vowed to continue the century-long tradition of protecting the stamp from light and preserving it.