Jenny sale sets new philatelic record

Donald J. Sundman, of Mystic Stamp Company in Camden, New York, has reported the sale of a plate block of the famous Jenny invert 24-cent airmail stamp (Scott #C3a) for more than $4.8 million, a record price for a U.S. philatelic item.

The sale took place by private treaty, with the purchaser requesting anonymity.

“At the request of the purchaser, the exact price is not being disclosed; only that it was north of $4.8 million US. This Inverted Jenny plate block sale is a record price for any U.S. philatelic item and the second highest price in the world ever paid for any philatelic item,” said Sundman.

The highest price is $9.48 million US paid for the British Guiana one-cent magenta in a New York City sale this summer.

Sundman said he had not been planning to sell the block, but instead intended to display it at World Stamp Show-NY2016 in New York City a year from May. He previously exhibited at the Washington, D.C., 2006 World Philatelic Exhibition and at the 2007 American Philatelic Society convention in Portland, Ore. However, he recently received an unsolicited offer he couldn’t refuse.

“It was the oddest transaction I’ve seen in stamps,” said Sundman. “Someone called me in late September and said he represents some people overseas who want to buy my Jenny block.  He told me they are not collectors, just wealthy people who want to buy things.”

“He revealed they had purchased a copy of the Magna Carta, and had a list of other rare items they wanted to buy, including a copy of the Declaration of Independence.  It’s odd that non-collectors are spending millions on some of the greatest treasures.  I’ve never seen anything like this in my 40 years in the hobby,” Sundman added.

He acquired the Inverted Jenny plate block in November 2005 in a trade with William Gross who had purchased it only a few weeks earlier for a then-world record $2,970,000 at a public auction conducted by Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries. In exchange for the block, Sundman traded his one-cent 1868 Z-Grill (Scott #85a) stamp that he acquired for $935,000 at a 1998 Siegel auction.

The historic swap was valued at the time at a combined total of $6 million and was arranged on behalf of Gross by Charles Shreve.

Sundman recently announced a reward on behalf of the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) of up to $100,000 to locate the two still-missing Inverted Jenny stamps from a block of four stolen nearly 60 years ago. The block was owned at the time of the 1955 theft by Ethel B. McCoy of New York City who later donated to the APRL two subsequently-recovered stamps and the legal rights to the other two.

The story of the Jenny invert is one of the great tales of stamp collecting.

When the United States Postal Service decided to introduce regular air mail service in 1918 a new rate of 24-cent was set, much higher than the three-cent ground rate. A new stamp was rushed into production featuring an image of a Curtiss Jenny, the type of aircraft being used in the service.

The new stamp was printed in two colours, red and blue, a process which had led to error stamps in the past.

Collector William T. Robey, hoping to find just such an error, turned up at the post office on the first day of sale, May 13, 1919, and found a single sheet of 100 inverts, which he purchased.

The sheet was quickly sold to a dealer, and then to collector Col. H.R. Green, who broke up the sheet into one block of eight, several blocks of four, and a number of single stamps. Prior to breaking up the sheet, the dealer who managed the sale, Eugene Klein, pencilled the place position on the back of each stamp.

That sheet remains the only known example.

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