It’s one of the longest-running mysteries in the history of the stamp world, but now a rare collectible stamp has resurfaced six decades after its original theft.
Considered America’s most famous stamp, the valuable “inverted Jenny,” also known as the “upside down Jenny” or “Jenny invert,” was first issued in 1918 with the image of a Curtiss JN-4 airplane printed upside-down in one of the most famous printing errors in history. They were priced at 24 cents when issued, but now have an estimated value of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The stamp surfaced last week at Spink USA, a New York auction house.
In 1955, a block of four of the rare stamps were stolen from a glass display case at a collectors’ convention while they were on loan to the American Philatelic Society. Two were recovered more than 30 years ago, but there has been no sign of the others until now, when the one in question was submitted to Spink and authenticated nearly six decades after the infamous heist.
“It’s one of the most notorious crimes in philatelic history, and there’s a piece of the puzzle now that’s in place,” said Scott English, the administrator of the American Philatelic Research Library, according to CBS News. English is currently working with federal authorities and the auctioneers at Spink to recover the stamp.
It was submitted to the auction house by a man in his 20s living in the United Kingdom who inherited the stamp from his grandfather and says he didn’t know much about it. Spink USA’s philatelic department not only determined it was a genuine inverted Jenny, one of only 100 ever sold, but was one of the ones stolen in the 1955 heist.
Authorities have told the auctioneers not to release the man’s real name. It’s unclear if he currently has an attorney who could make an official comment. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment regarding the case. The Sharon Herald reported that it’s hoped the stamps’s discovery will lead to new clues on the decades-old case.
“While it’s unclear whether the man can shed any light on the long-cold trail to the thieves, the stamp was accompanied by an intriguing item: a 1965 letter about a monetary loan from a noted stamp dealer to a well-known auctioneer, both now dead, Eveleth said. The letter isn’t necessarily connected to this stamp, however.”
“We’re going to remain optimistic,” English added. “Because think about it: Here we are, 61 years later, and a stamp has appeared.”
The lender of the original block of four “Jenny” stamps, Ethel B. Stewart McCoy, New York heiress and noted stamp enthusiast, signed over her rights to the stamps to the American Philatelic Society. They were put on exhibit for the collectors’ convention in Norfolk, Virginia, which is where they were brazenly stolen.
The “inverted Jenny” stamp has become one of the most iconic rare stamps, recognized even by non-collectors. They were initially printed to celebrate the launch of U.S. air mail, according to CBS.
“Some were printed with the plane inverted, and a savvy customer bought a 100-stamp sheet before anyone realized the error. Over the years, they were separated, coveted, counterfeited, stolen on more than one occasion and narrowly saved from the blitzkrieg of London in World War II and from a flood in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.”
The first two of the four stolen stamps were recovered in the 1970s and ’80s from two different Chicago stamp connoisseurs, who claimed they had purchased them from people who had died since or whose names were unknown to them.
The whereabouts of the fourth stolen “Jenny” stamp are still unknown.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]