Finest mint 1918 Jenny Invert highlights Nov. 8 Siegel auction of Nathanael Greene collection of outstanding U.S. stamps

Oct 23, 2023, 8 AM
The United States 1918 Jenny Invert airmail error stamp from position 49 of the discovery pane of 100 is featured in the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries’ Nov. 8 sale of the Nathanael Greene collection of superb U.S. stamps.

By Charles Snee

The finest example of the famous United States 1918 24¢ carmine and blue airmail stamp with the blue center inverted (Scott C3a), popularly known as the Jenny Invert, will highlight Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries’ Nov. 8 sale of the Nathanael Greene collection of outstanding U.S. stamps.

In this case, Siegel is literally saving the best for last because the Jenny Invert will be offered separately as a single lot immediately following the conclusion of the 153-lot Nathanael Greene sale.

The Jenny Invert up for bids is mint, never-hinged and comes from the ninth position in the fifth row of the original pane of 100 purchased by William T. Robey on May 14, 1918, at the New York Avenue post office in Washington, D.C.

In 2022, both the Philatelic Foundation and Professional Stamp Experts issued certificates stating the mint position 49 Jenny Invert stamp is genuine and assigning it a grade of extra fine-superb 95.

When Robey realized what he had found, he knew that he could reap a significant profit beyond the $24 face value he paid for the pane.

On May 19, 1918, five days after he bought the pane, “Robey agreed to give Eugene Klein, a prominent Philadelphia stamp dealer, a one-day option to buy the sheet for $15,000,” Siegel said in the auction catalog.

“Klein exercised his option on Monday, May 20, in a late afternoon phone call, and he confirmed it with a registered letter to Robey sent in the evening mail,” Siegel said. “The sheet was delivered to Klein’s office by Robey and his father-in-law on the following day, Tuesday, May 21, 1918.”

“No later than Monday, May 20, the day Klein exercised his option, he had arranged to sell the sheet for $20,000 to Colonel Edward H. R. Green,” Siegel said. “Half of the $5,000 profit went to Klein’s partners, Percy McGraw Mann and Joseph A. Steinmetz. Klein was then authorized by Colonel Green to divide the sheet into singles and blocks, and to sell all but a few key position blocks.”

With a nod to the historic and future ramifications of the find, Klein used a pencil to carefully number the position of each error stamp on its back before the process of separating them began.

A few of those numbers have since been removed (in at least one case to disguise the identity of a stolen stamp), but the stamp from position 49 still bears its original two-digit marking, visible on the back at bottom right.

Klein subsequently sold the position 49 Jenny Invert to a collector in 1918. The stamp didn’t surface again until September 2018, when the Philatelic Foundation announced that it had examined it and certified it genuine with a grade of extra fine 90.

For 100 years, the stamp had been carefully stored in a bank vault, its post office fresh colors and pristine gum preserved from the damaging effects of light and other environmental conditions, such as humidity.

Siegel subsequently offered the stamp in its Nov. 14-16, 2018, sale of U.S., Confederate States and Hawaii stamps, where the current anonymous owner paid $1.593 million for it. That realization includes Siegel’s 18 percent buyer’s premium.

Larry Lyons, executive director of the Philatelic Foundation, told Linn’s Stamp News that he and Lewis Kaufman assigned different grades to the position 49 Jenny Invert when it was submitted for examination and expertization in 2018.

“In 2018 Lewis Kaufman was the finalizer [on the certificate],” Lyons said. “At that time, I graded the Jenny at 95 but Lewis, being very conservative, graded it at 90.”

“I was asked to review the Jenny stamp [in 2022] and had no difficulty concluding that 95 is the proper grade since I had graded it 95 in 2018,” Lyons said.

Six of the 100 Jenny Inverts are known mint, never-hinged, and the position 49 stamp is the best of that group in terms of condition and grade.

“Among the other 94 stamps from the sheet, there is only one graded XF-Superb 95 — it is Position 58, previously hinged and certified by [Professional Stamp Experts],” Siegel said. “One other previously hinged stamp, Position 59, has centering that deserves a grade of XF-Superb 95, but it has not been graded by any service. No other sound stamp from the sheet has centering that qualifies for a grade of XF-Superb 95.”

According to Siegel, the stamp from position 49 is the finest Jenny Invert in existence.

To learn more about the most famous U.S. error stamp, visit Siegel’s Invert Jenny website, Among the website’s many useful features is a reconstruction of the original pane of 100 that shows the various single stamps and multiples. Clicking on any of the images brings up a detailed overview that includes a summary of the item’s provenance, certifications and sale transactions.

The position 49 Jenny Invert aside, the Nathanael Greene collection features an impressive array of stamps in top-shelf condition.

In his introduction to the catalog for the sale, Scott Trepel, president of Siegel Auction Galleries, stated that the stamps to be sold Nov. 8 represent the 20th-century section of a much larger collection.

“All of the stamps in the 20th century portion of the Nathanael Greene collection have original gum — the majority are Mint Never Hinged — and the centering is outstanding,” Trepel said. “In many cases the stamp has a certificate with a grade of 95 or higher. The collector was fastidious in choosing stamps of the finest quality and … he fought his auction battles with great perseverance.”

A representative example of the collector’s discerning eye is a mint, never-hinged 1913 $1 parcel post stamp (Scott Q12) graded superb 98 by Professional Stamp Experts in 2010 and 2021.

Siegel describes the stamp as having “gorgeous rich color” and “essentially perfect centering with wide balanced margins.”

The 2023 Scott Stamp Values U.S. Specialized by Grade values a superb 98 1913 $1 parcel post stamp in mint, never-hinged condition at $7,500.

Two separate softcover catalogs have been prepared for the sales of the Nathanael Greene collection and the mint, never-hinged position 49 Jenny Invert from that collection.

Full details of the auctions, including downloadable versions of the catalogs and online bidding options, are available on the Siegel website.

For additional information, contact Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries, 21 W. 38th St., Seventh Floor, New York, NY 10018.

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