On today’s date in 2016, a missing stamp from the iconic Inverted Jenny sheet was returned to the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) after more than 60 years during a special ceremony at the World Stamp Show held in New York City.
Keelin O’Neill of Ireland, inherited the stamp—one of a block of four stamps stolen at a 1955 American Philatelic Society (APS) show in Norfolk, Va.—from his grandfather and brought it to an auction house in New York City in April 2016. The stamp was then taken to the Philatelic Foundation in New York City, where it was discovered that the stamp was Position 76 of the missing McCoy Block.
From April to today, a whirlwind of events transpired to provide for the return of the stamp today.
“Every stamp tells a story and the story of the Inverted Jenny now has a new chapter,” said APS Executive Director Scott English. “This is a great day for philately and the result of a great partnership in the stamp collecting community and hard work of federal law enforcement.”
ONE STAMP STILL MISSING
The claim to the stolen block was assigned to the APRL in 1979 by owner Ethel McCoy, a New York stamp collector, who loaned the block to stamp collecting organizations for public display. Two of the four stamps were recovered in the 1970s and 80s, but there were no leads on the whereabouts of the remaining two stamps.
In 2014, Donald Sundman, president of the Mystic Stamp Company, offered a $50,000 USD reward for each of the two missing stamps and the APRL offered a $10,000 USD reward for information leading to the recovery of either of the missing stamps. The rewards were set to expire at the end of the World Stamp Show on June 4, 2016.
“We are indebted to Don for his generosity and helping us resurrect one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the stamp world,” said Roger Brody, president of the APRL. “On behalf of the Board and our members, I would also like to thank the committed agents of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office for their quick response and assistance. Finally, we extend our thanks to Keelin O’Neill, who worked with law enforcement and the APRL to quickly return this stamp home.”
O’Neill received a $50,000 USD reward for returning the stamp to the APRL from Sundman and the Mystic Stamp Company. The whereabouts of the last stamp from an original block of four, identified as Position 66, remains unknown. It also is legally owned by the APRL.
“While we are thrilled to have one more of our stamps back, there is still one more stamp missing and anyone with information about Position 66 should contact the APRL immediately,” said English.
Anyone with information can contact the APS at 814-933-3803 (extension 246) or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STOLEN ‘INVERTED JENNY’
The stamp was originally part of a sheet of 100 stamps printed in 1918.
The U.S. Post Office Department (a predecessor of the U.S. Postal Service since 1971) hastily created the stamps as it instituted the nation’s first official airmail service. Since the stamps are bicolored — a blue plane inside a red frame on white paper — the stamps had be run through the press twice to create the stamp. It is thought the inverted sheet was mistakenly placed on the press upside during the printing of one of the colours on the sheet.
The entire sheet of stamps was purchased by a lucky collector, William Robey, at a post office in Washington, D.C. The stamp was quickly sold to a dealer, then a collector, and over the next couple of decades was broken into singles and blocks, which were snapped up by collectors.
While part of a block of four owned by McCoy, an active stamp collector and member of the APS, the missing Jenny was stolen from a national stamp show in Norfolk, Va. More than 20 years later, McCoy willed the rights to the stolen stamps to the APRL, which is associated with the APS.
At some point, the block of stolen stamps was broken into singles, possibly by the thief or thieves, in hopes of disguising the individual stamps’ true origins.
All three recovered stamps have undergone alterations. The stamp that was just returned is missing much of its gum and some of its perforations were altered. Two of the four stolen stamps were located in 1979 and 1982 and returned then to the APRL, which sold one and kept the other.
Once the identity of the newly found stamp was confirmed, the APRL and Philatelic Foundation contacted the FBI and a case was opened with the Art Crimes Division in the New York office. The FBI put the stamp under protective order through the federal courts and remanded it for safe keeping with the Philatelic Foundation.
The final legal transfer of that stamp came via the cooperative effort of the APRL, the FBI, and U.S. Attorney’s Office via a signed agreement before the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.