Most of us idly dream about stumbling upon an overlooked treasure that will make us fabulously wealthy, but almost none of us ever actually experience such an unprecedented event.
Except, however, for the lucky owners of a famous, pristine “Inverted Jenny” stamp — so named for a printing error that printed a sheet of 100 stamps with a picture of the JN Curtiss plane, or “Jenny,” upside down. This misprinted sheet of stamps became the most famous and valuable stamps in United States history.
First auctioned in 2018 for the tidy sum of $1.593 million, as reported by The New York Times, the stamp recently sold again at auction for a staggering $2,006,000.
The owners of this particular stamp discovered it hidden in their grandfather’s safe deposit box. The years spent there kept the stamp in pristine condition, with even the glue on the back of the stamp remaining untouched, as reported by NPR.
As the lucky new owner of this rare stamp, 76 year old real estate developer, Charles Hack, told The Washington Post, “This is the premium copy. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
But what is it that makes this misprinted stamp so valuable?
Primarily, it’s the stamp’s rarity. In 1918, when printing a series of stamps depicting this newfangled contraption, workers unfamiliar with airplanes printed a sheet of 100 stamps upside down and sold them without realizing their mistake.
As Scott Trepel, an expert stamp collector, told NPR, “People weren’t familiar with what they looked like, and so the inverted plane on the stamp slipped through the inspectors, slipped through the clerk at the post office. And even he said … ‘I don’t know what a plane looks like, so I didn’t recognize it when I sold it.'”
And so, a set of stamps that, according to the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, originally cost 24 cents a piece and were sold to an unsuspecting clerk for $24, climbed in value from a few thousand dollars to the current multi-million price they now fetch at auction. The theft of four of them in 1955 only increased their value, with only three of them being returned and a fourth still missing.
If that fourth one is recovered, it’s still unlikely that it will be in the same condition, and thus, fetch the same price as its brethren have.
Nowadays, when money loses its value faster than it can be printed and little things often seem of no importance, it’s still a marvel how such a small thing can still be so valuable.
More so when that small thing obtained its value from a mistake — a mistake caused by ignorance of what was a new and exciting technology.
Even in 1918, 15 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright’s initial flight in Kitty Hawk, planes were new and strange enough for ordinary postal workers to print 100 stamps of an airplane upside down and not even notice.
A mere 100 years later, the machines are so ubiquitous that even members of the remotest tribes in the world can give you a basic description. The ability to step onto a vehicle that flies across the globe is so taken for granted, some even mistake it for a right instead of a privilege.
The sale of this valuable little stamp is a reminder of a time when these flying contraptions still elicited wonder and, sometimes, confusion.
What new, exciting, and, perhaps, frightening technologies might become routine and ordinary machinery of our daily life in the future?
What we today consider a technological marvel might become as ordinary as, well, driving a car or flying in airplane. And, conversely, what we today consider as ordinary and insignificant as a tiny stamp might in the future fetch you a small fortune.
In the meantime, check your stamps.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.