From time to time, stamps or postal stationery items are discovered that are different from normal issues because of a mistake made during production. Although stamp printers are very careful about creating only properly manufactured postage stamps, there are times when something goes haywire during production and the mistakes are not caught before the stamps are distributed. The most prominent of these inadvertent varieties are known as "errors," and many have a value to collectors that is far greater than the value of a normal example of the same item. Especially intriguing are the stories of errors and misprints that turn run-of-the-mill stamps into instant collectibles.Errors in stamp production are among the most highly coveted postage stamp varieties. One of the most famous varieties of all time, the Inverted Jenny, is an example of a production error.

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

The Curtiss' plane was nicknamed Jenny because of its official designation Curtiss JN-4. When the 1918 United States 24¢ airmail stamp was being printed, one partially printed sheet of stamp paper was accidentally turned the wrong direction before it was fed into the presses. As a result, the airplane known as the Curtiss Jenny appeared to be flying upside down on that sheet. This kind of error is called an invert, meaning one element of the design is upside down in relation to the rest of the stamp.

On bi-color stamps like the 24c Air Mail stamp of 1918, the guidelines helped align the plate for printing the second color. Unfortunately, they did not guarantee correct up vs. down orientation, and the plates used for the first printing of this stamp had no other markings to help show top vs. bottom. After the sheet of the Inverted Jenny was found, TOP was added to both plates for subsequent printings.

The first US air mail stamps printed in 1918 were named the 24c. At the time the highly important series of U.S. stamps had been these airmails and the initial issue of these stamps, in May 1918, was an attractive 24 cent carmine stamp featuring a blue Curtiss Jenny biplane in the center. It was to be used for letters flown (with varying degrees of success) on the route between Washington and New York. Lowered airmail rates later that year soon rendered the stamp obsolete with the exception of the Inverted Jenny.

When the United States issued its first Air Mail stamp, on May 13, 1918, collectors were on the lookout for invert errors. This was only the third time the US had issued bicolored stamps, and each of the prior instances had yielded inverts. The first was the six stamps of the 1901 Pan-American Expo set.

One lucky stamp collector

William T. Robey actually went to all his local post offices to look for inverts the day the stamp was first available, and hit the jackpot, finding and buying, for $25.00, the only sheet of 100 copies of the invert. Robey was astounded to discover that the sheet he had purchased was made up of 100 stamps picturing an airplane upside down! When the collector asked if there were any more sheets available like the one he had just bought, the Post Office clerk demanded the return of the defective sheet. Refusing to give it back, Robey later sold it to a Philadelphia dealer for $15,000.

Errors such as the Inverted Jenny, of which the only 100 were accidentally released, hold great enthusiasm for stamp collectors and the public at large. There's a fascinating book called The Inverted Jenny: Money, Mystery, Mania, by George Amick, that tells the story of this sheet of stamps. As the world's best-known and most sought after invert error, its catalog value is currently $150,000 per stamp. The unique center-line block, catalogs at $600,000.

Floridian may have used $200,000 stamp to vote by mail

More recently, in Fort Lauderdale, FL someone mailed in an Inverted Jenny attached to an absentee ballot for the 2006 elections. It was attached with a collection of other stamps from the World War II era. Some papers report that stamp collectors think it will be more valuable while other say it will be less. The Washington Post reports that, “Maynard Guss, president of the Sunrise Stamp Club, said an Inverted Jenny, if authentic, could be worth $200,000. But when the ballot was mailed, the stamp was canceled, reducing its value. Guss estimated that a canceled Jenny would sell for $20,000 to $100,000.”There was no name on the envelope and it has since been sealed in an election box for 22 months which is required by law, then all ballots are destroyed. No one is sure if it will be authenticated before then.

Ballot stamp likely a fake

As of November 15th it looks like it may be a fake. Probably a known counterfeit, Philatelic Society director Peter Mastrangelo believed from a preliminary examination by photos, that the thinness of the Florida stamp's paper seems to be dissimilar from that of a real Jenny, the blue dye and the perforations were not the same as the originals.

Selected Sources

Encyclopedia of U.S. Postage Stamps:

F is for Firsts :

Florida ballot stamp likely a fake, experts say:
Accessed November 15,2006.

Rare Stamp May Be on Envelope in Florida Ballot Box:
Accessed November 14, 2006.

Many thanks to toalight for the origin of the name of the airplane.

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