First Airmail Stamp Issued in 1918

Ninety years ago on May 13, 1918 the United States Post Office Department issued the first stamp to pay the rate for their new airmail service. Congress had approved the rate on May 6, 1918 and requested they be printed in time for the first flight planned for May 15, 1918. Two million of the stamps were printed.

The stamp depicts a Curtis JN-4 bi-plane or as it was affectionately known the “Jenny”. This plane was used in the delivery of airmail. However, it was not the plane used on the first airmail flight. That plane was the Standard JR-1B. The 24c rate included special delivery along with the airmail. It was not valid for any other kind of mail or postal service. The Scott U.S. Specialized Catalogue, the U.S. philatelist’s bible, lists the stamp in the Airmail section at the back of the regular postal issues. It is catalogue number C3.

William T. Robey, a collector living in Washington, D.C., purchased a sheet of 100 from the post office window. Being an astute collector he noticed the plane in the center of the stamp was inverted (upside down). He returned to the window and asked for more like it. The clerk attempted to get the sheet back as a defect, but Robey refused knowing it might turn out to be worth a bit more. Today a single stamp from this sheet sells at auction for around $200,000 US, and a block of four was auctioned last year for a record $2.97 million US. Robey sold his sheet to Eugene Klein, a dealer in Philadelphia for a reputed $15,000 US which in 1918 was a lot of cash. Considering he paid $24 US (face value for the 100 stamps) he realized a nice return. There has been an entire book written telling the story of the inverted sheet. Only one sheet of 100 was ever found. This inverted stamp is listed in Scott as a variety with catalogue number C3a.

Needless to say I don’t have one of these in my collection.


4 Responses to First Airmail Stamp Issued in 1918

  1. stamperdad says:

    He was a collector. When I say valuable, it would only be valuable depending on demand from other collectors. If no collectors wanted it, then it wouldn’t be worth much. Collectors are always after the rare or unusual though and willing to pay top dollar for it.

    If the printing error was consistent and lots were in circulation, then they would never be rare, just curiosities, value = not very much. In this case only 100 exist and thus rarity.


  2. “Robey refused knowing it might turn out to be worth a bit more.”
    Maybe this is a silly question- but how did he guess that might be the case? That was almost a hundred years ago. I always wondered that about stamps: when did errors first make them valuable?
    Very interesting story.

  3. stamperdad says:

    Thanks for reading and your comment. Appreciate it.


  4. Saleem Khan says:

    Nice article Steve – the good thing being that you remembered the 90th anniversary. Myself like many other Airmail enthusiasts have forgotten the landmark date in US Airmail history.
    The last line in your article is universal “Needless to say I don’t have one of these in my collection.”

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