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.