US Stamps

By Charles Snee

The story behind the Jenny Invert from McCoy block recovered in New York

April 21, 2016 10:40 AM

  • This United States 1918 Jenny Invert airmail error stamp, position 76 from the original pane of 100, was recovered in early April after being missing for more than 60 years. It was once part of the famed McCoy block of four Jenny Invert stamps that was stolen in 1955. Image courtesy of Spink USA.
  • In this close-up photo, Philatelic Foundation curator Lewis Kaufaman uses a pair of tongs to hold the McCoy Jenny Invert that was recovered in early April. Image courtesy of the Philatelic Foundation.

By Charles Snee

One of the two missing 1918 United States Jenny Invert airmail error stamps from the famed McCoy block of four that was stolen in 1955 was recovered in early April.

Auctioneer Spink USA in New York City announced the electrifying find April 15.

Spink reported that after “careful examination” the stamp was “determined to be position 76 in the pane of 100 subjects. This position is the bottom right stamp from the famous McCoy block of four, which was stolen out of its exhibition frame in 1955 during the American Philatelic Society convention in Norfolk, Virginia.”

This leaves only the top-right Jenny Invert from the McCoy block, position 66, unaccounted for.

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According to Spink, the undisclosed owner had inherited the stamp and brought it to the Spink galleries in midtown Manhattan for sale.

The recovered stamp was difficult to identify, according to Spink.

The auction firm’s examination revealed that the stamp “had been reperforated at left and most of the gum was removed.”

On April 4, Spink took the stamp to the Philatelic Foundation in Manhattan for authentication.

Larry Lyons, executive director of the PF, and Lewis Kaufman, PF curator, led the expertization process that relied on the Foundation’s extensive records, photos and electronic images of Jenny Inverts.

Two weeks later, on April 19, the PF announced that it had identified the stamp as position 76 from the original pane.

“Upon close examination,” the PF said, “position 76 was found to have been reperforated at its left side to remove traces of a vertical red guide line that had originally appeared on the tips of its perforations.”

During the past 70 years, the PF has authenticated 84 of the 100 Jenny Invert stamps from the original pane. This total includes all six of the existing blocks of four.

Spink said that once legal issues are taken care of, the stamp will be returned to the American Philatelic Research Library, which is considered to be the stamp’s owner.

The APRL, located in the American Philatelic Center with the American Philatelic Society, is the largest philatelic library in the United States.

“This is one of the most exciting events in my 38 year career in the stamp auction business,” said George Eveleth of the Spink USA philatelic department.

Roger Brody, president of the APRL, was just as pleased to learn of the recovery of the third McCoy Jenny Invert.

“We are all thrilled that it has been found,” he said.

The McCoy block is named for Ethel B. Stewart McCoy, a woman of substantial financial means who inherited a large estate following the death of her first husband, Bert A. Stewart, who ran a company in New York City that manufactured rubber stamps.

In 1936, McCoy purchased the block that would eventually be inextricably tied to her name from Spencer Anderson for $16,000 — a substantial sum in those days.

Among her many interests were needlepoint and poetry. She also was a noted patron of the ballet, opera, and symphony.

But as George Amick wrote in 1986 in Jenny: The exciting story of the world’s best-known stamp error, McCoy’s “greatest love was stamp collecting. She collected Columbian, Trans-Mississippi and Pan-American Exposition commemoratives, including essays and proofs; airmails of the world, and precancels.”

Her three albums of stamps depicting palm trees placed her among the pioneers of topical collecting, one of the most popular areas in the hobby today.

In her second husband, Walter R. McCoy, whom she married in 1941, Ethel found someone who shared her passion for stamps.

Following the theft of the block in 1955, it would take more than 20 years before the first McCoy Jenny Invert (position 75) was recovered in 1977. Four years later, in 1981, the position-65 stamp was recovered. The FBI played a prominent role in the recovery of both stamps.

The APRL’s close association with the McCoy block began in early 1979, when Ethel McCoy signed over her right, title and interest in the pilfered stamps to the APRL.

In 1981, the APRL decided to sell the position-75 stamp, which realized $115,000 in a John W. Kaufmann auction.

To flush out the two remaining missing stamps, the APRL offered a $10,000 reward for each in 1988. That enticement, however, did not yield positive results.

As the 60th anniversary of the 1955 theft approached in fall 2014, Don Sundman, president of Mystic Stamp Co. in Camden, N.Y., injected new life into what had become a cold case with a reward of up to $50,000 for each of the two still-missing stamps.

Sundman made his generous offer on behalf of the APRL at the Aerophilately 2014 show in Bellefonte, Pa.

As for the status of the position-76 stamp, the APS and APRL are concentrating their efforts on getting the stamp back, which, given the legal issues involved, could take some time.

“Obviously we are focused on getting the stamp safely returned to the American Philatelic Research Library,” APS Executive Director Scott English told Linn’s.

“We would give real credit for finding this stamp to Don Sundman and Mystic Stamp Company for the generous offer of a reward and raising the profile of this case after all these years. We probably would not be at this point if not for Don. The APRL owes Don a debt of thanks for his contributions on this front.”

Among the mysteries swirling around this case is the individual who consigned the stamp to Spink USA in New York.

English said that he has seen some “media reports about information on the consignor, but that information has been provided to law enforcement officials and not necessarily shared with” the APS or the APRL.

For the time being, English said, there is no firm timeline regarding when the stamp will be returned to the APRL.

“It depends on the cooperation of the consignor,” he said. “If he is willing to voluntarily relinquish the stamp to the APRL, it could be within weeks. Otherwise, a legal process to recover the stamp could take 12 months or more. Until the case can be resolved, the stamp will remain in the custody of federal authorities.”

Also to be determined is whether the consignor or Spink USA (or both) will be entitled to any of the $50,000 reward that Sundman announced in 2014.

“At this point, we are focused on the return of the stamp and gathering information to help make determinations on the reward,” English stated. “Once the stamp is returned to the APRL, the committee established to evaluate the facts will meet and make a determination.”

Time, however, is of the essence because the reward is set to expire June 4, which is the final day of World Stamp Show-NY 2016.

Overall, it’s too early to know what the APRL will do with newly recovered Jenny Invert.

Once the stamp is safely back in the custody of the APRL, the APRL board “will certainly consider what would be appropriate handling of the stamp,” English said.

Anyone with information about the still-missing position-66 McCoy Jenny Invert should contact the American Philatelic Society via email to jenny@stamps.org; or telephone 814-933-3803, extension 246.

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