US Stamps

By Charles Snee

Jenny Invert stamps, 1856 1¢ Magenta among Linn’s top headlines for 2014

December 12, 2014 09:52 AM

  • A world record for the auction of a philatelic item was set in June when the unique 1856 British Guiana sold for $9.48 million.

  • The unique plate block of the 1918 24¢ Jenny Invert airmail stamp was sold by Mystic Stamp Co. president Don Sundman in a private transaction finalized Oct. 4.

From the record-breaking sale of the British Guiana 1¢ Magenta to searches for the elusive $2 upright Jenny Invert pane of six, 2014 made for a year that shone a bright spotlight on stamp collecting.

Millions of people around the world, most of them not stamp collectors, were exposed to media coverage of our splendid hobby because of reporting on these and other subjects that first appeared in the pages of Linn’s.

A year’s worth of reporting generates many good headlines, but some are better than others and our space is limited. So without further ado, here are my picks for the year almost concluded.

I offer them to you in chronological order, not in order of importance, perceived or otherwise.

Upright $2 Jenny panes sell for big bucks

Linn’s Jan. 27 issue reported that one of the first four upright Jenny Invert panes to be discovered was sold to Ideal Stamp Co. in New York City for $25,000. That transaction marked the first time one of the panes traded publicly in the hobby marketplace.

It wouldn’t take long for increased collector interest in the rare and exceptional to eclipse that initial benchmark price.

On June 26, during the annual Rarities of the World sale, Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries president Scott Trepel gaveled down an upright Jenny Invert pane for $45,000.

When the 15 percent buyer’s premium was added to the hammer price, the winning bidder paid $51,750. Trepel remarked in our July 14 report about the sale that the buyer “made history.”

Not a bad return on the original $12 purchase price for consignors David and Gail Robinson of Virginia, who purchased the 18th pane to be discovered at a post office.

To date, Linn’s has recorded the discovery of 20 of the 100 upright Jenny Invert panes that the United States Postal Service intentionally printed and then randomly seeded throughout the more than 2 million normal panes printed showing the Curtiss Jenny biplane flying upside down.

Janet Klug tapped to chair CSAC

In the wake of a September 2013 walkout by members of the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee over conflicts between the committee and U.S. Postal Service officials overseeing the stamp program, it came as a breath of fresh air to learn of Janet Klug’s appointment as chair of the committee in mid-January 2014.

At the time of her appointment, Klug had served on the committee for almost four years. She replaced former American Film Institute chief executive Jean Picker Firstenberg as chair.

Bill McAllister, Linn’s Washington correspondent, reported the details of Klug’s promotion in our Feb. 3 top-of-the-fold story.

Klug was one of the first established collectors to reach out to me when I joined Linn’s editorial staff in March 1999. Her enthusiasm for stamp collecting is infectious, and I am confident that her tenure at the CSAC helm will be productive and beneficial for the U.S. stamp program.

APS executive director Martin to be replaced

On Jan. 21, Stephen Reinhard, president of the American Philatelic Society, posted a letter on the APS website ( informing members that the APS board of directors had voted to replace Ken Martin as executive director of the society.

In our page 1 story in the Feb. 10 issue, we reported that the “decision to replace the executive director was made following the recommendation of the society’s Secure the Future Committee.”

Reinhard, in his letter, cited numerous challenges facing the APS, including an annual net decline of approximately 1,000 members.

In the Editor’s Insights column in the Feb. 17 Linn’s, I pointed out that, via an analysis of APS membership numbers (which may be tracked through updates published in the society’s monthly magazine, American Philatelist), membership numbers have dropped rather more steeply in recent years than Reinhard stated in his letter.

“The challenges ahead for the APS are acute,” I summarized. “Let’s hope the new executive director will come to the table with the skills in hand to meet them head on.”

As of this writing, the search for a new APS executive director continues.

CSAC working list ofU.S. stamps leaked

In late February, a list of approved U.S. stamp subjects attributed to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee was leaked to The Washington Post and subsequently published on that paper’s website.

Our report in the March 10 Linn’s provided a detailed analysis of the list, which is dated Jan. 7, 2014, and marked “Confidential/Restricted Information.”

Approved subjects were listed for the 2014-16 programs, along with “an extensive list of approved subjects not assigned to a specific year,” wrote Jay Bigalke in our story.

It will be interesting to see how closely the actual stamp programs during the next few years match the Postal Service’s intentions as described on the leaked list.

1856 British Guiana 1¢ Magenta brings $9.48 million

The world’s most famous stamp set a record when it sold for almost $9.5 million June 17 at Sotheby’s in New York City.

Linn’s New York correspondent Matthew Healey was there for the historic sale, which he recounts in splendid fashion in a front-page report in the July 7 issue.

“At 7 p.m., a sharp hush fell over the room, and camera operators from a dozen TV networks bent over their viewfinders,” Healey wrote.

“Standing at the podium like a magician before a rapt audience, [Sotheby’s vice chairman and auctioneer] Redden recounted the stamp’s catalog description and opened the bidding at a modest $4.5 million. Bidders in the room quickly began nudging it up in half-million dollar increments.”

When the hammer fell, the price stood at $7.9 million. Tacking on the 20 percent buyer’s premium brought the total to $9.48 million, just about 10 times what the iconic stamp fetched when it was last sold in 1980.

In the wake of the sale, the Scott editors decided to assign a value to the stamp. That value, $9.5 million, first appeared in the 2015 Scott Classic Specialized Catalogue of Stamps and Covers 1840-1940, published in November.

More recently, we reported in the Nov. 24 Linn’s that the 1¢ Magenta will be displayed at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., for a three-year period beginning in April 2015.

Reward offered for two missing 1918 Jenny Inverts

Don Sundman, president of Mystic Stamp Co., made a big splash Sept. 13 at the Aerophilately 2014 show at APS headquarters in Bellefonte, Pa., when he announced a reward of $50,000 for each of the two missing 1918 24¢ Jenny Invert airmail error stamps that were once part of the McCoy block of four.

The McCoy block is named after Ethel B. McCoy, who owned the block when it was stolen in 1955. Before she died in 1980, she signed over her rights to all four stamps to the American Philatelic Research Library.

Since the theft, two of the stamps have been recovered — one of which is frequently displayed at the annual APS Stampshow at different locations around the country.

We broke the news of the reward offer in a page 1 report by Matthew Healey in the Sept. 29 issue.

“Though probably altered and possibly damaged, the stamps should still be recognizable, thanks to old photos of the McCoy block, by characteristics such as their centering, and flyspeck details like tiny paper inclusions and stray wisps of ink,” Healey explained.

Healey also said that it’s possible that the penciled numbers on the back, added to mark the position of each stamp in the original pane of 100, might still be visible and provide a means of identification.

In the meantime, we await a potential thaw in this well-known philatelic cold case.

Mystic sells 1918 Jenny Invert plate block

Speaking of the world’s most recognizable error stamp, the unique plate-number block of four was sold by Mystic Stamp Co., which had owned the block since 2005 and used pictures of it extensively in its advertisements.

Mystic had obtained the plate block in a widely publicized trade with William H. Gross, who received the 1¢ Benjamin Franklin Z Grill (Scott 85A) from Mystic, thus completing his collection of 19th-century U.S. stamps.

Mystic president Don Sundman made the surprise announcement Oct. 7. Page 1 of the Oct. 27 issue carried Matthew Healey’s story about Sund­man’s decision to sell the block after he received an unsolicited phone call Sept. 26 from the eventual buyer, who remains anonymous.

Sundman told Linn’s that the transaction was finalized Oct. 4, and he said that the offer of close to $5 million “was a price I just couldn’t turn down.”

According to Sundman, the buyer didn’t seem to be an experienced collector. Nonetheless, he paid in full for the block with a certified check.

We look forward to the block’s next appearance, whenever and wherever that might be.

ASDA marks its centennial at NYC show

The American Stamp Dealers Association celebrated its 100th anniversary in grand style during the association’s 65th National Postage Stamp Show, held in late October in New York City.

Jay Bigalke’s Nov. 17 report recounted the highlights of the show, including public auctions by the Daniel F. Kelleher firm, first-day ceremonies for the U.S. Postal Service’s Winter Fun forever stamps and Silver Bells global forever stamp, the honoring of longtime stamp dealer Richard Champagne as the ASDA man of the year, and a superb lineup of exhibits on display for all to see and explore.

Gordon Eubanks’ exhibit titled “The United States Issues of 1851-1856 and Their Importance in an Expanding Postal System” took home the U.S. grand award. Among the gems included in the exhibit is the renowned 1852 Dawson cover — the only cover franked with a 2¢ Hawaiian Missionary stamp.

USPS taps first woman for PMG

We reported in the Dec. 1 Linn’s that Megan J. Brennan, a career U.S. Postal Service employee, will be the first woman to lead the organization when she assumes duties as the 74th postmaster general next year.

Patrick Donahoe, the current PMG, announced that he will retire Feb. 1.

Bill McAllister wrote that Brennan’s selection “was announced Nov. 14 by the U.S. Postal Service board of governors at a meeting dominated by concerns over the federal agency’s continuing financial problems.”

Brennan will have her work cut out for her, in no small part because the Postal Service recorded its eighth straight annual loss in fiscal 2014, to the tune of $5.5 billion.

We wish her every success as she prepares to lead the Postal Service during these challenging times.

And there you have it: my top picks for stamp-hobby happenings for 2014.

If you think I missed the mark, or forgot to mention a 2014 story that should have made the cut, please tell me about it.

Write to Linn’s Editor, Box 29, Sidney, OH 45365, or fire off an email to me,

The Linn’s staff and I wish each of our readers a happy, prosperous and philatelically fantastic 2015.