For such a tiny piece a paper, the “Jenny” has a huge history dating back to 1918. On May 6, Congress authorized the United States Post Office to print air mail stamps with a rate of 24-cents and have them ready for sale several days prior to the official inaugural flight on May 15. No easy task.
With less than two weeks to deliver the stamps, work started immediately designing and printing the first air mail stamps. The design featured a bi-plane, the Curtiss JN-4, thus the name Jenny. In addition to the time crunch, Congress wanted the stamp to be printed in not one but two colors — red and blue. To accomplish this, the Bureau had to revert to an older “Spider” press that would print 100 stamps to a sheet. Two passes through the press were necessary to complete the red and blue design. The first air mail stamps went on sale May 13, 1918. No one knew that out of the two million stamps printed, there were 100 gems.
William T. Robey now becomes part of history. On his lunch hour, this stockbroker’s clerk and avid stamp collector, went to the post office on New York Avenue near 13th Street in Washington, DC to buy some of the newly issued air mail stamps. Being an avid stamp collector, he recognized the printing error immediately. Stamps without perforations or upside-down designs have a way of catching a collector’s eye. When the clerk put the sheet down on the counter, Robey’s heart skipped a beat. Instead of buying a couple of stamps, he bought the whole sheet.
Upon returning to work, Robey told some friends about his find. Several co-workers immediately went to the post office to buy their own upside-down airplane stamps. A few hours later, postal inspectors were asking Robey to sell the sheet back to them. When he declined, they threatened to confiscate them. Robey went home and hid his treasure under his mattress. Knowing official pressure would increase, he contacted a dealer, Eugene Klein, and sold it to him for $15,000. Klein immediately sold it Colonel Edward Green for $20,000. The saga of the “Jenny Inverts” began.
“Jenny Inverts” have been bought, sold, donated, stolen, swept up by a vacuum cleaner, featured in movie plots, and encased in a locket. A Jenny even has been wounded. During the Battle of Britain in September 1940, the Inverted Jenny owned by John Crichton-Stuart, was stored at the Chancery Lane Safe Depository. After the bombing the storage room were under three feet of water. A month later, the Inverted Jenny was found. It has lost its gum, but otherwise wise was in good shape.
What to do at the show —
- Download the Free APS App designed to assist show attendees. The app contains the daily schedule of events, a roster of dealers, their specialties and booth locations, a list of exhibits, and more. Go to http://www.stamps.org/SS-App to down the app.
- Attend a First Day Ceremony — A First Day Ceremony is the official unveiling of a new stamp release. There will be three on Thursday, August 21. The United States Postal Service will issue the Hudson River School stamps at 11 a.m. The Cultivating Hope stamps will be unveiled by the United Nations at 12:30 p.m. The Marshall Islands ceremony at 1:30 p.m. will feature the Endangered Amphibians and Reptiles sheet.
- Get Into Collecting in the Kid’s Stamp Zone — The Zone is a kids-only fun area — games, puzzles, activities, stamps, and more stamps. Adults must be accompanied by a child.
- “Shop ’til You Drop” — Dealers will be selling and buying stamps from around the world, hobby supplies, and other stamp-related materials — postcards, items of postal history, illustrated envelopes, etc. Prices will range from a dime to a dollar and up. (http://www.stamps.org/SS-Dealers)
The doors open daily at 10 a.m. and admission is free! Friday and Saturday the show runs until 6 p.m.; Sunday until 4 p.m.