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Philatelic Gallery : Inverts


24-cent airmail stamp with a center airplane image that is upside down

Pane of 100 red stamp frames
Plate proof of the 1918 24-cent airmail stamp frame

24-cent stamp with central image upside down

1-cent stamp with central image of a ship upside down

4-cent stamp with central image one of the first electric automobiles upside down

$1.00 stamp depicting a candle lamp. The flame is printed at the bottom of the stamp instead of over the candle

A printing mistake occasionally turns a common stamp into a highly prized trophy. The well-known 24-cent airmail stamp of 1918 is a famous example. An unused regular copy of the stamp is worth something less than $100 in today's market. A stamp of the same issue with an inverted center can be sold for two thousand times that price. Only one sheet of one hundred of these stamps, affectionately known as the Inverted Jenny, was sold. The lucky buyer was William T. Robey of Washington, D.C.

Inverted stamp errors are created when a sheet of stamps passes through more than one printing, usually to add another color. If, when the sheets are set up for the second pass, one sheet has been turned around while being moved, the frame or vignette will print upside down. In the case of the Inverted Jenny, the frame was printed first. When one sheet was inadvertently turned around when the center, or vignette, was printed, the image showed the plane appearing to be flying upside down.

In 1869 a series of stamps was printed depicting American symbols and history. Three denominations of inverted stamps were mistakenly created during the production of this series. Inverts appeared in the 15-cent, 24-cent, and 30-cent issues.

Only about ninety used and three unused copies are recorded from the 15-cent issue. The central design illustrates the Landing of Columbus, originally engraved by John Balch.

Approximately eighty-four used and four unused copies have been recorded from the 24-cent issue. The vignette shows The Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776 at Philadelphia, originally painted by John Trumbull.

Only about thirty-seven used and seven unused copies are recorded as still existing from the 30-cent issue. The central design of this stamp illustrates the American Eagle, Shield, and Flags, from a wash drawing by James Macdonough.

On May 1, 1901, a series of stamps went on sale that celebrated the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Just as in 1869, printing errors caused inverted stamps to appear in three issues of the series.

Approximately 600-700 errors were printed of the one-cent issue. Most of the stamps in the set depict contemporary modes of transportation. This denomination shows the Great Lakes steamer City of Alpena.

Only about 155 unused and three used copies are known to exist of the two-cent error from 1901. The illustration is believed to be locomotive #938 of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad.

The Post Office Department deliberately printed one sheet of 400 inverts from the four-cent issue. Of those, 203 were distributed to dignitaries and others. The illustration is of one of the first electric automobiles. It is an enclosed coach or brougham used by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a bus in Washington, D.C.

In 1959 Canada issued a commemorative stamp for the St. Lawrence Seaway. As a bicolor stamp, the issue went through the presses twice. A small quantity of inverts were accidentally printed and distributed to Canadian post offices. Approximately 62 mint and used examples remain in the hands of collectors.

The one-dollar Colonial Rush Lamp and Candle Holder stamp was first printed in 1979. In 1986 one hundred stamps with the inverted brown candleholder were sold to the public. Five of those stamps were presumed to have been used on mail, with the invert error going undetected. The remaining 95 were purchased by employees of the CIA. This stamp error soon became known as the "CIA invert."

Pane of 100 blue airplane images
Plate proof of the 1918 24-cent airmail stamp vignette

15-cent stamp with central image upside down

30-cent stamp with central image upside down

2-cent stamp with central image of a train upside down

5-cent Canadian stamp with center image upside down

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