By Michael Baadke
The trustees of the American Philatelic Research Library have decided that owning one Jenny Invert stamp is enough, and they are now taking steps to sell the long-missing stolen airmail error stamp that was returned to the APRL earlier this year.
The Position 76 stamp was returned to its rightful owner, the library, on June 2 of this year, after it was found in Northern Ireland and delivered to the United States.
That means the library now owns two examples of the world famous 1918 24¢ airmail error stamp that shows the blue Jenny biplane in the vignette flying upside down (United States Scott C3a).
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APRL administrator and American Philatelic Society Executive Director Scott English proposed the sale of the valuable stamp in a presentation to the joint meeting of the APS board and the APRL trustees held Oct. 28 at the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, Pa. The proposal was made by English and APRL board of trustees president Roger Brody.
The recommendation made to the APRL trustees was to authorize English and Brody to explore the sale of the stamp with an auction house to obtain the best possible return, with proceeds from the sale of the stamp, plus the sale of “additional philatelic materials from supporters of the APRL to be included in the auction,” to be used to reduce the $600,000 loan that was taken out to complete construction of the new library building at the American Philatelic Center.
The 24¢ Jenny Invert is listed with a value of $450,000 in the 2017 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. The Position 76 stamp that the library plans to sell was altered sometime during the six decades after it was stolen and before it was recovered, and that damage to the stamp could impact its potential value at auction.
On the other hand, its unusual provenance and the cachet of being part of the famous McCoy block might add appeal for potential buyers.
The proposal to sell the newly found stamp mirrors actions taken in 1981, when another stolen Jenny Invert stamp was returned to the library and then sold at public auction very soon thereafter.
The motion at the October board meeting passed without dissent.
The library’s other Jenny Invert is from position 65 on the only known sheet of 100 error stamps. It was recovered in November 1982.
Both stamps are part of the McCoy block, a block of four attached stamps that was removed intact from the sheet of 100 long ago. The block was still intact when it was stolen in 1955 from an exhibit at the annual APS stamp show and convention taking place that year in Norfolk, Va.
The stamps belonged at that time to Ethel B. Stewart McCoy, a prominent and respected collector of airmail stamps. Almost 25 years after the theft, Mrs. McCoy donated her ownership rights to the still-missing stamp quartet to the APRL.
She died in 1980, but one of the four stamps from the missing block, Position 75, had already been found by that time, and wound up in the library’s possession after all legal concerns were resolved.
The library sold that stamp in the Sept. 25-26, 1981, John W. Kaufmann auction at the APS convention in Atlanta, Ga.
The next year, a second stamp from the block was recovered: the upper left stamp, Position 65, which is still owned and frequently displayed by the APS and the APRL. It is considered “one of the most publicly viewed versions of the Inverted Jenny,” according to details released in October by English and Brody.
After the two stamps on the left side of the block were recovered, some 35 years passed before another one of the missing stamps turned up, in a most unlikely place: Northern Ireland.
The single stamp was found by a noncollector named Keelin O’Neill among items left to him by his late grandfather, in a box that included old records and an antique clock.
O’Neill could only speculate that his grandfather, who was not a stamp collector, might have obtained the items in the box at a “car boot sale,” a type of local flea market or informal swap meet that both O’Neill and his grandfather would frequent from time to time.
For a while O’Neill didn’t do anything with the items in the box; he just held on to them as something to remember his grandfather by.
One day he was thinking about his grandfather, started looking through the box, and decided to check out the odd stamp.
On a trip to the United States, he took the stamp to Spink USA, an auction firm in New York City.
“Once I was told that it was stolen,” O’Neill said, “I wanted to give it back to the rightful owner.”
The stamp was returned to the APRL on June 2, during World Stamp Show-NY 2016 in New York City.
The story behind the Jenny Invert from McCoy block recovered in New York: One of the two missing 1918 United States Jenny Invert airmail error stamps from the famed McCoy block of four that was stolen in 1955 was recovered in early April.
O’Neill was present for the stamp handover, and received a $50,000 reward from Mystic Stamp Co. president Donald Sundman, who had announced in 2014 he would give a reward if either of the library’s two missing Jenny Invert stamps were returned.
At that stamp show, Sundman further extended his offer of a $50,000 reward for the return of the last missing stamp from the McCoy block, the Position 66 Jenny Invert. That extension continues to the end of 2016.
At the library grand opening banquet on Oct. 28, English said there is still more to the story of Sundman’s reward offer.
“Don’s sending the check to the APRL, and he said, ‘Listen, if the stamp shows up before the end of the year, please keep my commitment. If on January first the APRL decides there’s a better use for the $50,000 — you got it.’”
An additional $10,000 reward authorized by the APRL trustees for information leading to the recovery of the missing invert went to Spink USA, and was presented to George Eveleth, the head of the firm’s philatelic department, during the library banquet.
Spink USA, in turn, donated $7,000 to the APS Expertizing Service, with the remaining amount to be used to cover the auction firm’s own legal expenses in association with the finding of the stamp.