US Stamps

Spink to auction Jenny Invert centerline block Sept. 27

Sep 9, 2019, 8 AM

By Michael Baadke

The centerline block of the 1918 24¢ Jenny Invert airmail error (United States Scott C3a) is about to be offered at public auction.

The New York City office of Spink, the London-based auction firm, has scheduled a Sept. 27 auction for the unique four-stamp block.

In addition, a single Jenny Invert stamp will be auctioned on the same day as part of Spink’s Philatelic Collector’s Series sale.

Both items are identified by Spink as having been previously owned by collector and philanthropist William H. Gross.

The centerline block of four comes from the only position on the single discovery sheet of 100 stamps where the vertical and horizontal carmine rose guidelines intersect. The block consists of the four stamps from positions 45, 46, 55 and 56 in the center of the discovery sheet, and the printed guideline runs through the perforations between the four stamps.

The centerline block is one of the prominent position pieces from the 100-stamp sheet of carmine rose and blue errors that was discovered by stamp collector William T. Robey when he bought it at a Washington, D.C., post office window in 1918.

It is now one of the six remaining intact multiples detached from that sheet, all blocks of four. The other 76 stamps from the sheet are singles, each with its own unique attributes.

The first U.S. airmail stamp, the 24¢ Jenny (Scott C3), was issued May 14, 1918. It was printed by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing on a hand-operated spider press.

In all, more than 2.1 million 24¢ Jenny airmail stamps were issued, but only one sheet of 100 was found with the blue “Jenny” biplane flying upside down.

According to Joe Kirker, writing for the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, all examples of the 24¢ Jenny stamp were made from single plates of each color, “with frame plate vertical and horizontal guidelines within the sheet stamps and margin arrows of both colors in the top and bottom margins to assist in proper centering of the airplane vignette during the second printing process.”

The guidelines create the intersecting lines across the perforations of the centerline block heading for auction.

The auction firm describes the block as having “beautiful centering, with the left pair being especially choice.” The original gum is described in the 1991 Philatelic Foundation certificate as slightly disturbed. Spink notes that a 2019 certificate has been obtained from the Foundation as well.

The centerline block last sold at public auction on Sept. 25, 1991, during the Christie’s Robson Lowe auction of blocks from the Arthur J. Kobacker collection. It realized $550,000 in that sale, including the 10 percent buyer’s premium then assessed by Christie’s.

In the 2019 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers, the centerline block is individually listed under Scott C3a with a value of $2.1 million. That figure is printed in italics, a signal that the Scott catalog editors consider it to be an item that is difficult to value accurately.

The single-item Spink auction catalog makes note of the Scott value and states that the block is offered “with a very modest opening bid of $1,000,000.00”

The auction of the centerline block is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Fifteen minutes later, Spink will start its Philatelic Collector’s Series sale, and the first item offered will be the single Jenny Invert stamp from position 39 on the discovery sheet.

The stamp is described by Spink as wonderfully well centered amid large margins, with beautiful rich colors on clean paper.

The back is lightly hinged and includes the light pencil number “39” at bottom right. Eugene Klein, an early broker of the Jenny Inverts, numbered each stamp in the sheet before breaking it apart into singles and blocks for sale.

Spink reports that a 2019 Philatelic Foundation certificate grades the single stamp in its auction as very fine-extremely fine 85.

The auction catalog page describing the error stamp is headlined “One of the Best Centered Singles Available.”

Although all of the 100 Jenny Invert error stamps originated on the same sheet, the centering varies slightly from stamp to stamp, depending upon the position on the sheet where the stamp was printed.

In listing the stamp’s value, Spink cites the 2019 Scott Stamp Values U.S. Specialized by Grade, a supplement within the Scott U.S. Specialized catalog, which assigns a value of $675,000 for the Jenny Invert with a grade of VF-XF 85.

The auction continues with more than 200 additional lots that include United States and worldwide stamps, along with a few covers and collections.

Also up for sale are a number of proofs and essays from the Fred Smallbone gold medal collection of Great Britain Downey heads.

Among the more unusual finds in this sale is a upper right corner margin block of six of the Hawaii 10¢ yellow green Stars and Palms stamp (Scott 77), with each stamp struck with a Honolulu duplex postmark dated June 13, 1900, identified by Spink as “the last day on which Hawaiian stamps were valid for postage.”

The block is offered with an estimate of $100 to $150.

The catalogs for the Spink sale of the Jenny Invert centerline block and the Philatelic Collector’s Series auction can be viewed online or downloaded as PDF documents from the Spink website, with online bidding options available.

For additional information, contact Spink, 145 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

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