Finest mint 1918 Jenny Invert tops $2 million in Nov. 8 Siegel auction

Nov 15, 2023, 8 AM

By Charles Snee

On Nov. 8, it took roughly two minutes for Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York City to sell 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, for a wisp above $2 million.

That stamp, from position 49 in the discovery pane of 100 that was purchased May 14, 1918, for its $24 face value in Washington, D.C., is in mint, never-hinged condition.

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.

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.

Siegel saved the best for last because the position 49 Jenny Invert, which was part of the Nathanael Greene collection of outstanding U.S. stamps, was offered separately as a single lot immediately following the conclusion of the 153-lot Nathanael Greene sale.

Prior to opening the bidding, Scott Trepel, president of Siegel Auction Galleries, reminded potential bidders of various regulations surrounding the sale of the stamp, which Siegel last sold in 2018 for $1,593,000 to the anonymous owner of the Nathanael Greene collection.

“Arrangements will have to be made to pick up the stamp because we won’t be dropping it in a FedEx envelope,” Trepel said.

With the formalities out of the way, Trepel opened the bidding shortly past 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time at $1.2 million.

With competition from bidders in the room and on the phone, the price quickly advanced to $1.25 million and then to $1.3 million.

Trepel then took a bid of $1.35 million and repeated that amount several times before stating “fair warning,” meaning that he was about to hammer down the lot. Seconds later, a bid of $1.4 million was received.

Bidding then smartly advanced through $1.5 million, $1.55 million, $1.6 million and $1.65 million before Trepel announced a bid of $1.7 million “in the room,” meaning that someone on the auction floor placed that bid.

Shortly after a phone bidder dropped out and with no further bids being announced, Trepel hammered down the stamp to its new owner for $1.7 million. The final realization, with Siegel’s 18 percent buyer’s premium tacked on, came to $2,006,000 million.

That final price is the highest ever paid for a single U.S. stamp.

Trepel told Linn’s Stamp News that there were 60 registered bidders for the single-lot sale. Of those, eight participated in the sale, “but from the $1.2 million opening we had four in play [placing bids],” Trepel said.

Dealer Harry “Sonny” Hagendorf, owner of Columbian Stamp Co. (which he formed in 1976), was on the auction floor during the sale.

Following a query from Linn’s, Hagendorf contacted the winning bidder. Hagendorf then informed Linn’s that the anonymous owner agreed to be revealed.

The new owner of the graded 95 Jenny Invert is Charles Hack, a highly successful real estate developer and investor in New York City whose wide-ranging collecting interests include rare stamps and postal history, Belgian symbolist artists, Dutch old masters paintings and prints, Renaissance sculpture, Japanese pottery from Shigaraki and Bizan, and more.

In an interview with Linn’s days after his triumph at the Nov. 8 Siegel sale, Hack said he was present on the auction floor and did his own bidding. “Hagendorf acted as my advisor,” he said.

Hack, who considers the Jenny Invert the holy grail of philately, decided to go after the position 49 stamp because “it is the very best, you can’t get any better example of this important American icon.”

Hack has a history with two other Jenny Inverts. The first is the position 35 stamp, which he acquired in Siegel’s October 2005 sale of rare and superb U.S. stamps and covers for a total realization of $297,000, inclusive of the 10 percent buyer’s premium Siegel charged at the time. It was at that 2005 auction when Hack first met Hagendorf.

Hack paid $977,500 (including the 15 percent buyer’s premium) for the position 57 Jenny Invert in Siegel’s December 2007 sale of U.S. stamps. On the advice of Hagendorf, Hack sold the position 31 Jenny Invert after acquiring the position 57 stamp.

Hack confirmed for Linn’s that he still has the position 57 Jenny Invert he bought 16 years ago. When asked about his plans for that stamp, Hack said he is considering selling it but has no immediate plans to do so.

Hack revealed that he is currently collecting U.S. fancy cancel covers. What Hack calls the “most prestigious” of his fancy cancel covers is the envelope bearing three bold strikes of the legendary Running Chicken of Waterbury, Conn., arguably the most famous and sought-after piece of U.S. fancy cancel postal history.

Hack acquired the Running Chicken cover during H.R. Harmer’s June 24, 2022, sale of part 7 of the Erivan collection of U.S. and Confederate States postal history. Including the 18 percent buyer’s premium, Hack paid $365,800 for the iconic cover.

David Fritz, an attorney in New York City, is a friend of Hack. Fritz attended the sale and provided Linn’s with the photo of the Siegel monitor that shows the final hammer price of $1.7 million.

According to Fritz, owing a Jenny Invert “was a boyhood dream” for Hack.

Hagendorf confirmed for Linn’s that he met Hack at the 2005 Siegel auction featuring the position 35 Jenny Invert that Hack purchased.

“We are very good friends now,” Hagendorf said, “and we have other interests outside the hobby.”

“This is a historic moment for the hobby,” Trepel said. “I believe that when this stamp comes to market again it will sell for even more.”

To learn more about the most famous U.S. error stamp, visit Siegel’s Inverted 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, including a summary of the item’s provenance, certifications and sale transactions.

This story was updated with new information on Nov. 9 at 2:20 p.m., Nov. 10 at 2:50 p.m. and Nov. 15 at 8:20 a.m.

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