MANHATTAN (CN) — An Inverted Jenny stamp stolen more than half a century ago made its way home at a stamp convention Thursday, held on a podium in the shadow of the U.S. Navy biplane it depicts.
First issued in 1918, the “Inverted Jenny” got its name from a printing error that famously flipped the image of a Curtiss JN-4 airplane, a civil aircraft used for carrying mail during the World War I.
The U.S. Postal Service only ever printed 100 of them, and the rare misprint made the 24-cent stamp a prize for collectors.
Playing on a Jennifer Lopez lyric, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara saluted the “Inverted Jenny from the block.”
“It used to be worth a little. Now it’s worth a lot,” the prosecutor quipped.
Authorities have spent the last 61 years on the hunt for wayward Jennies after a block of four stamps disappeared from a 1955 stamp convention.
Though the identities of the thief or thieves remain unknown, one stamp turned up in 1977 and another in 1982.
Their last official owner, Ethel B. Stewart McCoy, assigned the American Philatelic Research Library all rights, titles and interests to the stamps before her death in 1980. McCoy was the daughter of Dow Jones co-founder Charles Bergstresser.
American Philatelic Society executive director Scott English said the specimen featured today — position 76 of the block — could fetch between $175,000 to $200,000.
English wore a tie patterned with the prized stamp’s image while leading today’s ceremony in the atrium of the iconic Jacob Javits Center, where more than 200,000 people are expected to attend World Stamp Show 2016.
The Jenny returned today began its long journey home after a man named Keelin O’Neill brought it to the auction house Spink USA, which in turn sent it to the Philatelic Foundation in New York for authentication.
When the foundation identified the stamp as stolen, they alerted federal authorities. O’Neill, who says he inherited the stamp from his late grandfather, agreed to return the stamp once he learned it was stolen.
He accepted a $50,000 reward for its return today.
U.S. Attorney Bharara, whose office recently returned a Stradivarius — the “Inverted Jenny” of violins — spoke about arguing with his father about the money he spent on his own childhood stamp collection.
With one “Inverted Jenny” from the McCoy block still at large, FBI director Diego Rodriguez requested tips from the public.
The Robert A. Siegel auction house sold an Inverted Jenny for more than $977,000 in 2007, but the stamp’s price dropped to the lower six figures a year later as the financial crisis set in.
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