Errors and Missteps
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Location: National Stamp Salon, Pullout Frame 238
The Inverted Jenny is a famous stamp error in which the pictured “jenny” airplane was accidentally printed flying upside down. A single sheet of 100 stamps with this error was sold. The sheet was broken up and the 100 stamps separated. One of seven of these stamps on display in the museum is from famed philatelist Benjamin K. Miller’s collection. Part of Miller’s collection of rare stamps was stolen from the New York Public Library in 1977, including the Inverted Jenny stamp shown here. The stamp was from the middle of the original sheet of 100 stamps, and so had perforations on each side from where it was separated from other stamps. The Inverted Jenny recovered by investigators in the early 1980s appeared to be different, it has a straight edge on one side. Investigators wondered if this was a different stamp, one originally from the edge of the sheet of 100. As it turned out, the thieves had cut off the top row of perforations, thus disguising the stolen stamp’s true identity.
Location: National Stamp Salon, Pullout Frame 174
The 1979 Rush Lamp stamp invert made headlines when the news broke that nine CIA employees, who had noticed that 95 stamps purchased for general government use contained an error, replaced those stamps, taking the inverts for themselves. The employees sold the inverts to a stamp dealer for a large profit and split the proceeds. The scandal resulted in the firing of four of the employees for lying to agency investigators and converting government property to private use.
Location: Mail Call, “From Horseback to Helicopter”
Due to the importance of mail’s role in boosting morale during times of war, the U.S. military has always looked to find new ways to make sure mail gets to service personnel. An experiment during the Vietnam War saw drab green mailbags dropped from helicopters to troops in the field. The project was short-lived due to the bags’ color. Intended to camouflage the bags to protect them from enemy interception, it was a bit too effective. The mailbags were nearly impossible to find in the dense brush, even for their intended recipients. The experiment was discontinued, but other innovations such as “Space Available Mail” and “Parcel Airlift” helped move mail more swiftly to and from U.S. troops serving Vietnam.
Location: Moving the Mail, “Aircraft in America”
Early airmail delivery was dangerous, with 34 pilots dying between 1918 and 1926. Part of the danger came from the airplanes themselves, which were originally designed for the military and not mail service. Although the airplane design was improved as the years went by, bad weather, difficult landings, and developing technology conspired to give early airmail pilots their ominous nickname: the “suicide club.”
Location: Customers and Communities, “Moving the City’s Mail”
Prior to 1863, most postal patrons picked up their mail at the post office. The introduction of City Free Delivery Service was an instant success, but it faced a number of challenges in getting established. Namely, people didn’t have mailboxes! Early designs for home mailboxes experimented with how to notify patrons they had mail when checking one’s mail was not yet a daily habit. In the case of this glass mailbox, patrons could easily see when they had mail—unfortunately, so could everyone else.
Location: Moving the Mail, “Mail by Rail”
Railway Mail Service (RMS) clerks were considered an elite class of postal workers that were responsible for sorting the mail as well as catching and throwing mailbags on and off the moving trains. However, operations didn’t always run smoothly. Sometimes the clerks would miss their mark while tossing the bags and the mailbag would tear open underneath the wheels of the moving train, causing a “snowstorm.” There were also instances of windows shattering as mailbags were tossed from the train into them, trains tipping into rivers, and mailbags tumbling into canyons—all in a day’s risk of doing “mail-on-the-fly.”
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