US Stamps

Prediction: The Jenny Invert panes will be grounded in 2015

Mar 21, 2014, 6 AM

The fact that only 15 of the 100 panes of the upright Jenny Invert $2 stamps have been reported as found is hardly surprising.

The United States Postal Service intentionally created the tiny run of 100 panes showing the airplane flying upright, and randomly distributed them among the regular issues for collectors to find.

In borrowing the plotline from Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the basis for the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), the United States Postal Service did almost everything wrong.

Willy Wonka had a problem. He needed someone to run his chocolate factory after he left the scene, so he introduced a worldwide promotion. Inside five randomly distributed chocolate bars he tucked a golden ticket entitling the bearer and a companion to tour his candy factory.

Publicity was widespread, and Wonka chocolate bars sold out everywhere. The general media picked up the story. Finding a golden ticket became a major news item, and the chase to find the last remaining golden ticket became an obsession of the masses.

The Postal Service made numerous poor assumptions and business decisions in adopting the Wonka model to create demand for the Jenny printing of 2.2 million sheets.

To begin with, the general public does not know about the 100 right-side-up sheets. It is doubtful that even one out of 1,000 non-collectors is aware that this stamp variety, worth a huge amount of money, might possibly be purchased at the local post office.

Wonka’s chocolate bars and golden tickets, in contrast, became world news during the contest.

The $2 Jenny Invert sheets are almost impossible to find unless you are a stamp collector.

Wonka chocolate bars were sold in plain sight at every store in the land. In contrast, most Jenny sheets are not carried in postal clerks’ drawers at the local post office. Instead, the clerk must leave the counter and hunt them down. Many post offices don’t have the stamp in 2014, and most don’t care to fool with it. And noncollectors do not buy stamps from the Stamp Fulfillment Center catalog or through the eBay website.

The idea of selling stamps in blind packaging is absurd. How does a noncollector get excited about a stamp he can’t even look at while standing at the counter?

In contrast, everyone in Dahl’s story knew what a Wonka chocolate bar looked like and tasted like.

The Jenny Inverts, sold in panes of six, carry a ridiculous price tag at $12.

Aside from the Express Mail stamp, the Jenny Invert pane is the most expensive stamp item for sale at the post office.

In contrast, a Wonka chocolate bar could be bought two for a single coin, a classic impulse purchase.

The Jenny Invert product is hard to put to good use. Wonka chocolate bars without golden tickets were gobbled up on the spot. The $2 Jenny Invert stamps are usable for Priority Mail, Express Mail and not much else.

Retail postal clerks have no time or incentive to push the Jenny Invert panes onto an unknowledgeable public. It is much quicker and easier to slap a meter stamp on an Express Mail flat than to explain to a noncollector why they should buy $24 worth of $2 stamps, especially if there is a line of postal customers waiting for service.

In contrast, no shopkeeper had to explain a Wonka chocolate bar: it sold itself.

The supply of the Jenny Invert product is enormous. Printing 2.2 million sheets with a $12 price tag was a colossal blunder. Stamp collectors and stamp dealers cannot absorb that amount of product, regardless of the right-side-up gimmick.

Willy Wonka knew his market and did not oversaturate it.

What is to become of the Jenny Invert panes? The most likely outcome is that the Jenny Invert panes will dribble out of retail inventories in post offices across the land and not be reordered by local postmasters.

The large reservoir of sheets warehoused in the limestone caves under Kansas City will diminish slowly over time at a decelerating pace as collectors tire of the chase.

Given that on average one would have to purchase $264,000 worth of postage stamps in order to find a single rightside-up sheet, it is unlikely that more than a handful of dealer players would even take the gamble, given the difficulty of liquidating 131,994 high-denomination stamps absent a hefty discount.

Recently the Postal Service dismissed a Linn’s Freedom of Information Act request for $2 Jenny Invert sales figures. This refusal is hardly surprising, for the USPS is forestalling admission of the fact it launched an ill-conceived marketing campaign that is virtually impossible to fix.

The U.S. Mint has a long history of melting oversupplies of commemorative issues, coins that were meant to sell at a premium over face value but found few buyers.

I believe that the U.S. Postal Service will choose a similar solution as well.

I predict that sometime in 2015 the Postal Service will issue a press release stating that Jenny Invert panes will go off sale in 120 days or so and that collectors should place their orders quickly with the Stamp Fulfillment Center (or eBay) to ensure delivery.

The deadline will pass. Forklifts will mobilize. Pallet loads of Jenny Invert panes will be trucked to the pulping mill.

Given the nature of the blind packaging, it would be impractical (but not impossible) for the Postal Service to extract the upright Jenny Invert panes prior to pulping.

And what then? Offer the newly found upright Jenny Invert panes on eBay as part of the Postmaster General’s Collection?

If the Jenny issue goes off sale prior to sellout, only a fraction of the 100 upright panes will be released to the public. And of those few panes that do reach collectors and dealers, many will be broken up and the single stamps sent to expertizers for certification.

And thus will end the silliest saga to afflict United States postage stamps since 1962 — the days of the 4¢ Dag Hammarskjold error reprint.