Jenny Invert 'locket copy' to auction May 15; Col. Green's gift to his wife has long history

This example of the 1918 24¢ Jenny Invert airmail error stamp was enclosed in a locket by Col. Edward H.R. Green. The locket containing both the error stamp and a normal 24¢ Jenny airmail stamp will be auctioned May 15 by H.R. Harmer of Tustin, Calif.

The back of the locket, showing the normal example of the United States 1918 24¢ Jenny airmail stamp, was made by the author when he first photographed both sides of the ornament in December 1984. 

By George Amick

Among the most unusual people ever to pursue the stamp hobby was Edward Howland Robinson (Ned) Green.

Until his death in 1936, Green, a big man with a cork leg who went by the honorific title "Colonel," devoted his inherited fortune to one self-indulgent diversion after another, including the accumulation of entire collections of stamps to acquire their errors and other rarities that had caught his fancy.

In 1918, Green paid $20,000 for the only sheet of 100 24¢ Inverted Jenny airmails (United States Scott C3a) ever to reach the public. Through his agent, Philadelphia dealer Eugene Klein, he sold some of the sheet's singles and blocks to other collectors, but kept a total of 41 stamps, including the plate number block, for himself.

One single in particular he set aside for special treatment.

He had it placed in a pendant made of two convex pieces of glass with a gold rim and ring for a chain, back to back with a normal 24¢ Jenny airmail stamp showing the plane flying right side up (Scott C3). 

He then presented the bauble to Mabel Harlow Green, a woman he had wed in 1917, a few months after the passing of his multimillionaire mother, Hetty, who had deeply disapproved of her.

What Mabel thought of the gift is unrecorded, but there's no evidence she ever wore it.

The story of the Scott C3a "locket copy" has become part of the Jenny Invert mystique. On May 15, H.R. Harmer of Tustin, Calif., will offer it at auction, still with its normal companion in their transparent enclosure, on behalf of an unnamed owner. It will be the locket's third auction appearance — it failed to sell both times before — and the Harmer sale catalog estimates its value at $200,000 to $250,000. 

The locket example is of interest to me because I once had a peripheral association with it. It had effectively been lost to the hobby for many years, but when I was researching my book, The Inverted Jenny: Money, Mystery, Mania (Amos Press, 1986), I located its then-owner and obtained her permission to make the first known photographs of it.

The photos of the front of the locket — the invert side — were published in Linn's Stamp News, in color on the cover of The American Philatelist, and in my book. 

One of my pictures of the reverse, showing the normal copy of Scott C3, is shown with this article, on page 18, for the first time.

Philatelists had been unaware of the locket until 1956, when George B. Sloane, a stamp dealer, auctioneer and writer, described it, somewhat offhandedly, in his column in Stamps magazine.

There had long been rumors that Green had created an ornament for his watch fob containing a Jenny Invert, but this was the first disclosure that the trinket actually had been a piece of women's costume jewelry.

According to Sloane, he had been asked to come to an unnamed midtown Manhattan bank one day in June 1950 to appraise a philatelic item. Mabel Green had died the previous April, and when he arrived, lawyers and others were gathered at her safety deposit box to inventory the contents.

Someone "tossed" Sloane the locket containing the two stamps, he wrote.

He noted that the invert had a straight edge at the top, plus "light creases in the upper left and lower right corners … probably of little consequence."

His column contained no other details, and for almost 30 years after its publication the locket didn't surface again: Nobody in philately saw it again, and nobody wrote about it again.

In the meantime, however, a few specialists had begun plating the Jenny Invert and tracing the travels and ownership of each single and block from the original sheet. Their project included digging out photographs of specimens from auction catalogs and other published sources, determining their sheet positions and recording the findings.

Through their work, most of the inverts were accounted for. Over the years, however, one straight-edge stamp from the top row of the sheet, position 9, never appeared in any sale. The specialists deduced that the locket copy Sloane had described must be position 9.

With the column as my starting point, I set out to rediscover the locket, contact its owner and take its picture. Three New York Times articles from 1950 helped launch the search.

The first reported that Mabel Green of Water Mill, Suffolk County, N.Y., had left the bulk of her estate to one Dorothy Sayward Nicholson. Dorothy, originally from New Bedford, Mass., had met Colonel Green and his wife through her parents when she was a child, and after the colonel died, she became a companion of Mabel, a woman more than 40 years her senior.

The second article announced that relatives of Mabel had filed suit in New York courts to have the will set aside.

The third, dated June 1950, cited a report in the New Bedford Standard that plaintiffs had agreed to a settlement that left Dorothy with basically what Mabel's will had given her.

I guessed that the inheritance had included the locket, and this was confirmed by the Suffolk County Probate Court, which listed a value of $900 for it — doubtless based on Sloane's recommendation.

In those pre-Internet days, I had to seek leads to Dorothy's whereabouts from probate officials, telephone information operators, postmasters, newspaper files and libraries in and around Suffolk County. I got a break when a librarian at the New Bedford paper, now the Standard-Times, sent me a batch of 1950-51 clippings that contained extensive detail about the court challenge to Mabel's will, including the name of the New York lawyer who represented Dorothy Nicholson.

I phoned the law firm and asked for the attorney, Lester D. Stickles. He was deceased, I was informed, but the firm's senior partner might be able to answer my questions. 

Sure, the partner told me, he remembered the case and the client; in fact, he said, Stickles later married her. He even provided a 10-year-old address and phone number in Setauket, Long Island, that might still be valid.

They were. I wrote a letter to Dorothy Nicholson Stickles, explaining my quest. She phoned me back, and we had a long conversation about Colonel Green, the Jenny Inverts and the round-the-world cruise she was planning to take. She didn't know when the colonel had the locket made or who fashioned it, but as far as she knew, Mabel Green never wore it. 

And, yes, she still had the locket. It was in a safe deposit box at the Bank of New York at Fifth Avenue and 44th Street in Manhattan, and she had no plans to sell or bequeath it. She planned to be in the city the day after Christmas to consult her attorney, and would be glad to meet me at the bank and let me photograph the item, on the condition that I not publish her name.

Dorothy met me on schedule, accompanied by her lawyer, at 11 a.m. on Dec. 26, 1984, and produced the locket. It was as Sloane had described it, albeit with a small chip in the edge of the glass that he hadn't mentioned. My two hosts sat patiently for a half hour while I propped the locket upright on a table and shot two rolls of 35-millimeter film — one color, one black and white — using two different lenses and a wide variety of shutter speeds and lens openings.

The photos all turned out well, and their publication allowed the experts to confirm that the invert inside was indeed position 9. 

Clifford C. Cole of Atlanta, a pioneer in plating the Jenny Invert, compared the image to illustrations of the stamps adjoining position 9, paying particular attention to perforations, centering and the location of the blue airplane vignette in relation to the red frame. 

"It fits like a glove," he told me. 

Others who concurred included Peter A. Robertson, curator of the Philatelic Foundation in New York, and James H. Beal, chairman of the American Philatelic Society's Stamp Theft Committee.

I never saw Dorothy again, but we exchanged Christmas cards for more than a decade, until she died in 2001 at the age of 90. Her cards always included brief handwritten notes, usually mentioning that she still owned the locket, although she once added that she wished she had sold it and added the money to a scholarship fund she had founded at Colgate University, her late husband's alma mater.

In 1996, at the request of the National Postal Museum, I wrote to her asking whether she would lend the locket to the museum for its Inverted Jenny "Class Reunion" and exhibition later that year. 

The exhibition eventually would contain 12 singles and three blocks of four, and inclusion of the locket would have given the public its first opportunity to see it. Regrettably, her lawyer and the museum weren't able to work out the necessary arrangements.

The year after Dorothy died, Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries included the locket in its May 18, 2002, Rarities of the World sale in New York. 

Presumably, the item was consigned by its late owner's estate, although that is unconfirmed. However, the high bid of $80,000 fell short of the reserve price, and the lot was withdrawn. 

On March 17, 2003, the locket was sold privately for $90,000 through Siegel to an anonymous buyer.

Around 2009, according to a provenance compiled by Siegel, the locket again was sold privately, for an undisclosed price, to an unnamed numismatic dealer.

It next turned up as a featured item in a Heritage/Bennett Auctions sale Dec. 11-12, 2009. An online reference to the sale reported that bidding would start at $200,000, with a buyer's premium of $30,000 to be tacked onto the final price. The lot failed to sell.

In 2010, the locket stamp received its only certification, from Professional Stamp Experts (PSE) of Newport Beach, Calif. Certificate 1218045 describes the invert as "genuine unused, o.g., never hinged, Position 9 — the so-called locket copy, with a short corner perf at the upper left, a small corner crease at the bottom left, another at the bottom right and a natural straight edge at the top." 

The certificate went on to say that the invert's normal companion, the Scott C3, "is genuine unused, o.g., never hinged, with a diagonal gum bend at the upper right, a gum wrinkle at the lower left and a small corner crease at the bottom right — this copy has been back to back in the locket with the Position 9 Scott No. C3a."

Scott Murphy, owner and CEO of PSE, recalled when the coin dealer who owned the locket brought the item, plus another Jenny invert, to his office to be certified. Murphy told him that for this purpose, the two stamps in the locket would have to be temporarily removed.

"He was OK with that," Murphy said.

Together, the two examined the locket with a magnifying glass to make certain it could be opened safely. The locket wasn't sealed, but had a small latch that proved to be easy to disengage. Inside, the two stamps "kind of float" and are able to "breathe" and "move around a little bit" in relation to each other, Murphy said.

When he removed the stamps, he found that "they weren't stuck together in any way," despite having been enclosed with their gum sides together, probably for more than nine decades.

"We put them through the expertizing process, and they came back as the certificate described," he said. "I put them back in the locket and closed and latched it."

I asked Murphy whether a penciled "9" was visible on the gum of the locket copy, and he assured me that it was. That mark was made in 1918 by Eugene Klein, who numbered the backs of all 100 stamps on the sheet to record their position before he broke it into singles and blocks for his client, Colonel Green, a foresighted act that greatly facilitated the plating of the inverts long afterward.

When Murphy first saw the locket, he said, it looked at a glance as if the error stamp was perforated on all four sides — but this was because the two stamps were so aligned that the perforation teeth across the top of the normal stamp were visible above the straight edge of the invert. The photo of the locket in the current Harmer auction catalog shows that the two stamps have shifted somewhat relative to each other since then.

For information about the May 15 auction, visit www.hrharmer.com; or write to H.R. Harmer, 2680 Walnut Ave., Suite AB, Tustin, CA 92780-7052.

Published 4/18/2014 11:00 AM