10 June 2021
The British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stole all the headlines after the recent sale of Stuart Weitzman's three 'treasures' at Sotheby's, but what about the other philatelic gem on offer? We take a look at the Inverted Jenny Plate Block.
It was described by Sotheby's as 'the greatest showpiece and considered by many to be the most valuable item in United States Philately' and yet the Inverted Jenny Plate Block was, understandably, overshadowed by the British Guiana stamp that retained its title as the world's most expensive stamp.
So what of the US rarity that fetched a still impressive £3.4 million?
Who bought the Inverted Jenny Plate Block?
The Inverted Jenny Plate Block is the most well-known and sought-after American stamp rarity was acquired by noted American collector David Rubenstein.
And whilst the stamp didn't get as much attention as the British Guiana, the price achieved at Sotheby's New York makes the Inverted Jenny Plate Block the second most valuable philatelic item ever to sell at auction.
About the Inverted Jenny Plate
There was only one sheet of 100 Inverted Jennies ever sold, and only one plate block comprising positions 87-88 and 97-98. Before the recent sale, the block last appeared on the market sixteen years ago when it sold at auction for $2.97 million and was subsequently purchased privately by Weitzman in 2014.
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To pay the designated 24 cent rate for the new official airmail route, the United States Postal Service released a special bi-coloured stamp in May 1918 featuring a blue Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” biplane.
A single sheet of 100 stamps with the biplanes appearing upside-down – due to a printing error – was sold for $24, the face value of the 100 stamps, to William T. Robey.
A cashier at a stock brokerage firm and an astute stamp collector, Robey recognized the rarity of the flawed sheet and rebuffed the USPS demands that he return the stamps after they learned of their mistake. Instead he sold the sheet just a few days later.
Having rapidly gained notoriety within the philatelic community, Eugene Klein – the Philadelphia stamp dealer who purchased the sheet from Robey – immediately sold it to the multi-millionaire Colonel “Ned” Green, a wildly eccentric stamp and coin collector.
Klein later persuaded Green to allow him to sell individual stamps to eager collectors, requiring him to carefully break the sheet into singles and blocks which he did after discreetly, and astutely, numbering every stamp in light pencil on the reverse.
The Colonel retained numerous singles and all the major blocks – including the present plate number block, which then comprised eight examples.
The life of the block of four
Following Green’s death in 1944, the block of eight Jennies passed into the collection of Amos Eno where it was separated into a block of four and ten years later it was purchased by the Weill Brothers of New Orleans, beginning an association that was to last 35 years.
Described as “The most important item in United States philately” when the Weill Brothers stock came to auction in 1989, it was bought for the unprecedented sum of $1.1 million by an anonymous buyer who kept the block until 2005 when famed bond investor William Gross purchased it for $2.97 million.