The Inverted Jenny was one of the great stamp collecting occurrences in history. The stamp shows a plane called a ‘Jenny’ surrounded by a red border, but that’s not what’s unusual.
The misprint? The plane is upside-down.
The story started when the United States Post Office decided to dedicate a stamp to recent airmail trials via the Jenny planes in 1918.
At the steep price of 24 cents a stamp (your 12 oz. morning latte would cost roughly the same amount today), people weren’t exactly fighting to buy them. Other stamps at the time cost three cents each.
An intuitive and lucky stamp collector named William T. Robey, who kept an eye out for Postal Service misprints, went out the day after the stamps’ release in 1918. When the postal clerk pulled out a sheet of 100 stamps, Robey knew he had hit the jackpot. He bought all 100 despite the hefty price.
Robey sent word to collectors about his find, but when a knock came on his door one day it was not who he expected: postal inspectors had come to buy back the stamps
Robey politely declined, but the inspectors threatened that the government would come to take back the sheet.
When they left, Robey hid the sheet of stamps under his mattress.
Eager to rid himself of government pressure, Robey sold the sheet for $15,000, not a small amount in 1918. Another collector, Edward H. R. Green, soon snatched up the sheet for $20,000.
Green sold blocks of four and blocks of eight from the sheet, knowing that selling smaller amounts would make the stamps worth more.
Green did not sell all of the stamps. He put one in a locket for his wife, and his wife also accidentally mailed one, which was recovered as the only cancelled Inverted Jenny.
The story goes that one stamp was sucked up by a vacuum cleaner.
Today, these stamps go for anything from $100,000 to $2.9 million for a block of four.
The stamp has been referenced in a number of TV shows, including The Simpsons, thanks to its legend in stamp-collecting circles.
Last year, the Postal Service issued a reprint to commemorate the famous stamp – except this time, an upside-down Jenny was printed. If you’re lucky, you can find one of the 100 sheets printed with a right-side-up Jenny. In this case, the upside-down plane is the norm.