US Stamps

Michael Baadke

Siegel to sell APRL Jenny Invert stamp recovered in 2016

March 21, 2017 02:30 PM

  • The American Philatelic Research Library plans to auction the Position 76 Jenny Invert error stamp that was missing for more than 60 years, and which was recovered by the library in 2016. Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries has been selected to conduct the sale of the rare stamp.
  • Part of an American Philatelic Research Library exhibit at the American Philatelic Society’s 2017 Ameristamp Expo held March 3-5 in Reno, Nev. The display shows two recovered stamps from the McCoy block: the Position 65 stamp at upper left, and the Position 76 stamp at lower right. At lower left is a color image of the Position 75 stamp sold in 1981, and at upper right is a black-and-white image of the still-missing Position 66 stamp.

By Michael Baadke

The American Philatelic Research Library in Bellefonte, Pa., has chosen Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries of New York City to sell one of its two Jenny Invert error stamps.

The auction will offer the Position 76 stamp from the McCoy block — the same stamp that was recovered just nine months ago after disappearing from its exhibition frame in 1955.

As reported by Linns.com last November, the APRL trustees voted to authorize library president Roger Brody and American Philatelic Society executive director Scott English to explore options to sell one of the two rare Jenny errors in its possession.

The 1918 United States 24¢ airmail stamp, printed in carmine red and blue, shows the “Jenny” biplane in the central design image flying upside down, the result of a printing mistake. Only one sheet of 100 error stamps was discovered shortly after the stamps first went on sale.

“The Inverted Jenny is one of the most iconic stamps in the world and Siegel has been a part of many notable stamp sales from that sheet,” said Brody. “That history should deliver a great return to the APRL.”

The APRL board selected the Siegel firm after considering eight proposals submitted since the sale of the stamp was authorized in October 2016.

The library expects the stamp to attract a winning bid between $150,000 and $200,000. Proceeds from the sale will go toward the 19,000-square-foot library, which opened in October 2016 following a $4 million construction project. The APRL, part of the American Philatelic Center complex known as the Match Factory, is the largest philatelic library in the world.

Both of the stamps owned by the library were once part of the McCoy block of four stamps, two across and two down, that was stolen intact from the 1955 APS stamp show and convention in Norfolk, Va.

The crime was never solved.

The stamps belonged at that time to Ethel B. Stewart McCoy, a prominent and respected collector of airmail stamps. Almost 25 years after the theft, McCoy donated her ownership rights to the still-missing stamp quartet to the APRL.

She died in 1980, but in the meantime, one stamp from the missing block, Position 75, had been found and wound up in the library’s possession after all legal concerns were resolved.

The library sold that stamp in 1981.

The next year, a second stamp from the block was recovered: the upper left stamp, Position 65, which is still owned and frequently displayed by the APS and the APRL.

After the two stamps on the left side of the block were recovered, some 35 years passed before another one of the missing stamps turned up, in a most unlikely place: Northern Ireland.

The single stamp was found by a noncollector named Keelin O’Neill among items left to him by his late grandfather, in a box that included old records and an antique clock.

O’Neill could only speculate that his grandfather, who was not a stamp collector, might have obtained the items in the box at a “car boot sale,” a type of local flea market or informal swap meet that both O’Neill and his grandfather would frequent from time to time.

On a 2016 trip to the United States, he took the stamp to the Spink USA auction firm in New York City.

“Once I was told that it was stolen,” O’Neill said, “I wanted to give it back to the rightful owner.”

The stamp was returned to the APRL on June 2 during World Stamp Show-NY 2016 in New York City. 

O’Neill was present for the stamp handover and received a $50,000 reward from Mystic Stamp Co. president Donald Sundman, who had announced in 2014 he would give a reward if either of the library’s two missing Jenny Invert stamps were returned.

“Of the many remarkable stories associated with the legendary Inverted Jenny, the theft of the McCoy block and the long road to recovery of the stolen stamps is perhaps the most thrilling,” added Scott Trepel, President of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, “Position 76 is the third one to be found and reclaimed, leaving only one still missing. It’s a beautiful looking Jenny and has the distinction of surviving 61 years of felonious captivity.”

Among the many reference and research sites hosted by the Siegel firm is InvertedJenny.com, which provides extensive historic detail for all 100 stamps from the original discovery sheet.

When the Position 76 stamp was recovered in 2016 it was returned to the library during a press conference held before an actual Jenny biplane on display in the Javits Center. The plane was on display at the international stamp show courtesy of Siegel Auction Galleries.

“This was one of the biggest moments and greatest images in the history of the hobby,” said English. “By pure luck, the plane was already there to promote the sale of another Jenny and it helped make the moment special.”

The date for the upcoming auction of the library’s stamp has not been announced.