Auctions

Jenny Invert centerline block sells for $1.74 million

Sep 30, 2019, 4 PM

By Matthew Healey

With a brisk couple of minutes of telephone murmuring, waving hands and the staccato calling of the lot in Spink auctioneer Charles Blane’s crisp British accent, the storied centerline block from the middle of the only sheet ever discovered of the most celebrated United States stamp error changed hands on Sept. 27 in New York City for $1.74 million.

The centerline block of the Jenny Invert was lot No. 1 in the Spink firm’s Philatelic Collector’s Series sale.

The inverted center 24¢ Curtiss “Jenny” airmail stamps of 1918 (Scott C3a) typically sell for several hundred thousand dollars apiece at auction, so the realization, which included the Spink firm’s 20 percent buyer’s premium added onto the $1.45 million hammer price, struck some observers as a comparative bargain.

But George Eveleth, the auction house’s specialist for the sale, said afterward he had predicted the hammer price would be around $1.4 million.

Six telephone bidders and a couple of internet bidders, all preapproved by Spink to bid in the high-stakes auction, participated.

The centerline block, which gets its name from the fine red guidelines running through the central perforations in each direction, is one of six surviving blocks of four from the original Jenny Invert sheet of 100. The block was last offered at public auction in 1991, when Christie’s sold it for $550,000, although it has changed hands privately a few times since then.

The public was able to view centerline block in 1986 during the Ameripex international philatelic exhibition, when it was shown by the legendary dealers Raymond and Roger Weill.

At one time, Bill Gross, the billionaire bond trader and philatelic philanthropist, owned five of the Jenny Invert blocks, including the centerline block. He gifted one block to each of his three children, with the centerline block going to his youngest child, Nick.

Presumably in recognition of the fact that the centerline block is slightly less desirable from the standpoint of centering and overall quality than some of the other blocks, Gross also gave his son Nick a single Jenny Invert, which was offered by Spink immediately following the sale of the centerline block.

That single, position 39 from the original sheet, is considered one of the highest graded examples of the stamp (Scott C3a), having received a Philatelic Foundation certificate earlier this year with a grade of very fine to extremely fine 85. This stamp, with lightly hinged original gum, sold for $425,000 plus commission, or $510,000.

The New York Post published a somewhat salacious story a few days prior to the sale, in which it described relations between father and son as poor, claiming that Bill Gross had not wanted Nick to sell the Jenny Inverts but instead keep them in the family to be passed on to Bill Gross’ future grandchildren.

Nick Gross, who is 31 and a rock drummer, reportedly denied that such a covenant existed on the ownership of the stamps.

The remainder of Spink’s Sept. 27 Philatelic Collector’s Series sale included choice U.S. and worldwide stamps.

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