Think stamps are only worth the paper they’re printed on? Philatelists will tell you to think again. The tiny One-Cent Magenta stamp, now on display at the National Postal Museum, recently sold for $9.5 million. 

Of course, that sole-surviving stamp of the British Guiana penny issues is the rarest stamp in the world. Other stamps deemed collectible by the philatelic community are also worth a pretty penny. 

Take the 1918 Inverted Jenny 24-cent airmail stamp. It is one of the world’s most collectible stamps because a sheet of 100 misprinted stamps showing an upside-down biplane was accidently sold to a customer. In today’s market, an Inverted Jenny stamp could fetch close to $1 million. 

Yes, collectors are passionate about their stamps. Indeed, stamp collecting even has a month – October – designated to recognize an activity that can range from a hobby to an obsession. Two years ago to celebrate National Stamp Collecting Month, the U.S. Postal Service reissued 2.2 million Inverted Jenny souvenir stamp sheets. The souvenir stamp sheets feature six $2 stamps and sells for $12. Collectors could buy the stamps at select postal retail counters and through USPS.com, eBay.com, and by ordering via a toll free phone number. The Postal Service’s goal was to sell all 2.2 million stamp sheets in the first 60 days for $26.4 million in revenue. As of March 31, total stamp sales were about $13 million.

To generate interest in stamp collecting and engage new generations of stamp collectors, the Postmaster General requested that the Postal Service create 100 additional stamp sheets that showed the biplane upright. Seventy of these Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets were distributed to be sold in the top 50 markets along with 1.2 million Inverted Jenny stamp sheets. The remaining 30 Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets were to be randomly distributed in the first 60 days of release.

While an innovative idea, this action had the unintended consequence of creating and improperly distributing a philatelic rarity, our recent management advisory noted. The Postal Service strongly and inappropriately influenced the secondary market by creating a rarity, the report said. In 2014, at least two Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets sold for more than $50,000 each. Our report recommended the Postal Service develop a formal process for philatelic promotions. 

What reaction did you have to the issuance of the upright Jenny stamp? What types of activities do you think would enhance support of the philatelic program? 

Comments (380)

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  • anon

    Bill, we appreciate your interest in stamp collecting. Your suggestion for soakable stamps is an interesting concept. Currently, we do not plan to initiate future audits or reviews addressing collector stamps. However, these comments are archived and may be used for future projects. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

    Aug 21, 2015
  • anon

    I think that issuing only one hundred upright sheets was a real mistake. To add excitement to the release no fewer than 100,000 should have been issued to give collectors a reasonable chance of buying one from the Postal Service. I don't think it is too late to reprint the upright Jenny sheets. You could change the date on each stamp from 2013 to 2015 so that the original rarity could still be distinguished from the reprint. But then everyone could have one.

    Aug 18, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your suggestion, Stuart. At this time, we are unaware of any planned future printing of the Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheets.

    Aug 20, 2015
  • anon

    I agree with Stuart, reprinting the un-inverted stamps with the date of 2015(2016) would be a step in the right direction. It would devalue the originals slightly which would not be nice for the few that have found them or bought them from auction, but would provide an opportunity for the average collector to obtain one. I also would like to weigh in on the numerous varieties of the same stamp issued. No one needs the same stamp issued as a forever stamp, but also as a denominated stamp, pick one and go with it. Nor do we need five different perforations for each definitive stamp issued. All the USPS is doing by making these numerous varieties of the same image is trying to make money off of collectors, yet it is this very reason that has driven myself (and several other collectors I know) to quit collecting current issued stamps. So the plan is to make money, but is it really accomplishing this with fewer people buying the current issues? Lastly many of the current issued stamps are not worthy of collecting. Their topics are boring, the portraits and prints are ugly, or the quotations are incorrect, which only distracts from those previously honored on postage stamps for valid reasons, rather than another .50 cents of revenue. Thanks for the invitation to voice our opinions though, I feel it is a step in the right direction. Ron

    Aug 27, 2015
  • anon

    Personally, I thought the upright Jenny was a great idea. I purchased panes of the stamps that I would not have otherwise bought, solely in hopes of snagging one. Unfortunately, I was buying them from the Stamp Fulfillment Center, which we now learn was not putting them in circulation. I will buy future ones over-the-counter. I use the Jennies on the rare occasions when I have to send a Certified Mail item.

    Aug 18, 2015
  • anon

    I did the same thing; purchased most of my sheets from the Stamp Fulfillment Center . We often mail boxes to friends and relatives. I plan to purchase 20 years of postage, in the hopes of "getting lucky". It is a way of gambling, where I can't lose. I just might not get the use of my money for 20 years. I think it is a shame most letters, and boxes, do not have stamps. I think the best way for the next generation become interested in collecting is the receive letters and to soak off those stamps. I have fond memories of doing that with my father, as do my children. I have been purchasing mint, soakable, stamps and using them as postage on letters to my grandson in hopes he will someday become interested.

    Sep 05, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your response, Grannybunny. We appreciate your interest in stamp collecting. At this time, the only way to potentially receive an Un-Inverted Jenny stamp sheet is to make a purchase through a retail Post Office.

    Aug 20, 2015
  • anon

    I oppose issuance of stamps that are not generally available to all who wish to purchase them. I have collected for over 40 years, and have tried to maintain a complete collection of US stamps. However, the upright Jenny as well as last year's special Circus Poster stamp that was available only to collectors who bought the USPS's year set have left two holes in my otherwise collection that is complete back to about 1940. The USPS has gotten me to reconsider whether I ought to continue to collect new issues.

    Aug 18, 2015
  • anon

    It is one of the best ideas to come out of the USPS for a while. It has given the hobby lots of publicity among the general public. Let's do this about every five years or so for a special occasion stamp. And also, forget the youngsters, we should focus our attention on middle age.d people who are more likely to be taking up a new hobby and who have money and time to spend on the hobby of stamp collecting

    Aug 18, 2015
  • anon

    There is no need to generate interest among the non-collecting world. The reason collecting is down is that the things that most attract collectors have been systematically removed from release; namely engraved stamps featuring mostly if not entirely American history and accomplishments of Americans. The Post Office has gone for cheaply made self-adhesive issues that look more like a child's sticker than a stamp. The attempt to be more culturally aware has backfired; why did we honor a non-American artist from Mexico who disliked this nation? The Post Office is acting like a musical group that changes style to follow "fads". It attracts new people but alienates the very fans that got the group where it is. There should be no artificially created rarities, no collectables that are available only in annual collections. And for heaven's sake, can't we force the printers of self-adhesive stamps to properly roulette issues so that individual stamps can be easily detached? I'd tear up any contract where the printers can't manage this. Finally, no commemoratives of living people. Imagine the uproar today if the post office had issued a set of "living comedians" that included Bill Cosby? The reason we wait for a time after death is to make sure there were no skeletons in the honoree's closet.

    Aug 18, 2015
  • anon

    I spent over $600.00 buying several inverted Jenny souvenir sheets so I could find just ONE of the Un-inverted varieties. I wanted to find an Un-inverted stamp sheet so bad because I could sell the mint sheet and use the money from the sale to buy a house for my wife and kid since we live in tight two bedroom apartment. I was never able to find one and my dreams have all but gone up in smoke. Then I read in Linns that two people who bought some of the Jenny invert stamps got randomly picked to receive the special Un-inverted stamps while I was spending nearly every spare dollar I could get just to find one. Say what !? Why couldn't I have been picked to receive one!? For years I have been buying stamps from the USPS and the back of the my philatelic catalog it says that I am a loyal and valued customer to them. My family and I have been struggling to get into a house since we've been married because my job doesn't pay enough and we need to show the bank that we have saved up enough cash - the opportunity to obtain one of these Un-inverted souvenir sheet varieties could have been the ticket and changed our lives.

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    At first, I was very excited about the upright Jenny's. That is, until I read about USPS randomly sending them out to customers who ordered online. I felt cheated in a way as the chance of pulling one became much harder. I decided to use all that I had collected to send gifts to my family. I don't think I would collect something similar in the future.

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    I think the Postal Service should get out of the business of intentionally trying to create collectibles. They should issue stamps that are collectible and not collectibles that are stamps. Having an issue that can't be reasonably obtained by the public should be outside the bounds of a postal service entity. Further, as more information is revealed on this item, it apparently wasn't as random as originally indicated but rather some were held back to distribute in other ways.

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    I used to think the government was a body of individuals you could trust to make good decisions and do what is right for the people. At least that's what I worked for as a government employee for 36 years... The US Postal Service has an amazing job every day delivering mountains of mail and parcels, and they are trying to do it without tax dollars to keep it solvent. I must say for the difficulty they must be facing they are doing a terrific job of it. However, now with the distribution of postage stamps made in direct violation of its own rules, I have to question the leadership of the postal service and its decision on the two dollar inverted bi-plane stamp. Does anyone think that introducing this intentional "error" stamp will increase the interest of new collectors? I fear all you have done is drive more collectors and potential collectors away. Where do new collectors come from, children! Start them young.. But what child is going to shell out $12.00 (and who knows how many times) to try and secure the error pane. Very short sighted of the postal service leadership. IT'S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY... Nothing else...

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    I think it was a good idea, but it has been very poorly implemented. I feel cheated and lied to by the USPS, considering that they are stil in possession of a good portion of the "upright" sheets, and they were not all randomly distributed as promised. I figured some sheets would be randomly inseted into the online sales mix, but I read that this is not the case. I was basically buying lottery tickets with no chance to win. How many are still known to be in USPS posession, and what does the USPS intend to do with these?

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your comments, Dennis. At the time of our report, the Postal Service had 80 stamp sheets in inventory (or at least were not registered purchases). Our recommendation 2 asked the Postal Service to develop a plan to address the remaining stamps sheets. The Postal Service plans to have an action plan in place by August 31, 2015.

    Aug 20, 2015
  • anon

    Given that the action plan was due by 8/31/15 and we're now at 10 September, 2015, where can the plan be found?

    Sep 10, 2015
  • anon

    American philatelists would benefit greatly if there were actual philatelists working for the post office. Nothing is worse than being greeted at the local post office by employees who don't even like their jobs, let alone stamps. And the senior management of the USPS is no better. The sole purpose of the non-inverted Jenny was to generate income from collectors, rather than provide them with an affordable collectible. For me, it has been a slow torture to see how the USPS has destroyed the hobby. Stamps are issued for people unworthy of recognition. There is no longer an artistic quality to the stamps themselves. Worst of all, you can't even soak a stamp off an envelope any longer. The cheapest and easiest way to start a kid in the hobby is with free used stamps that arrive in the mail. Oh, one more thing I want to complain about. Since 1981, National Stamp Collecting Month has been October, not September. Couldn't you even get that right?

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your comments, Gregory. The Postal Service issued the Inverted Jenny souvenir stamp sheet on September 22, 2013, to celebrate National Stamp Collecting Month in October. Our reference to September in the report correlates with the issuance of the stamps.

    Aug 20, 2015
  • anon

    Yes, the stamp was issued in September to commemorate the special occasion in October. No, that is not what you wrote! Here is the exact line from your post above, "Yes, collectors are passionate about their stamps. Indeed, stamp collecting even has a month – September " Did you proofread your own blog post before hitting submit?

    Aug 22, 2015
  • anon

    We apologize, George. Our original response was referring to the audit report. Your comment is referring to the blog synopsis itself. We’ve corrected the misprint. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

    Aug 26, 2015
  • anon

    Some sympathetic clerks worked for philatelic windows and a couple of special post offices in Arizona and Rhode Island. The bureaucracy killed everything. I guess they don't want more stamp sales. The local stamp window required a 2 week advance notice for appointment. No thanks. It's gone.

    Aug 19, 2015
  • anon

    It left a bad taste in my mouth from the initial announcement. Creating a rarity. Providing "giveaways" to select customers. Not letting the public know of the promotion. Not letting the public know of what chances there were in acquiring a pane (i.e. only sent to high volume post offices in select markets; and the USPS apparently knows what "rare" panes are to be "seeded" into the SFS purchases ... and the list goes on. I suspect it goes against virtually every postal regulation related to philately that was ever written. Even for those who didn't luck out in acquiring a rarity, the regular issued panes had many printing anomalies that were not up to USPS standard with smeared ink and missing components of the plane, etc., that were unintentional perhaps, but not up to the quality control standards of the printing company contracted to make these stamps. If the USPS analyzes the number of panes sold versus their goal, only about half of the panes were purchased, even with the promotional gimmick included. That should be statement enough that stamp collectors were not pleased with this fiasco.

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    "(i.e. only sent to high volume post offices in select markets; and the USPS apparently knows what "rare" panes are to be "seeded" into the SFS purchases ... " Sounds like a perfect opportunity for USPS scam artists to me. In this day and age, it is way too easy with eBay and online sales to get away with theft . On the topic of creating rare stamps for collectors- it is a GREAT idea! Why not?? it's not unethical, it's the same as those doll makers creating specially made rarities for collecting only, or any other hobby material.

    Sep 02, 2015
  • anon

    I believe the issue that discouraged new stamp issue collectors is not about the intentional upright biplanes, but the distributing method that was unfair. The randomly selected recipients may or may not be a philatelist. As a collector of new issues around the world, I would suggest USPS to look into and follow some successful examples by other postal administrations. Most notably, New Zealand Post's "Kiwi Collector Reward" program is one that specifically designs to reward loyal collectors. Through accumulating points based on how much one's purchased in the last calendar year, one could redeem special philatelic gifts at beginning of each year. I firmly believe USPS's good intention to promote philately could follow similar path.

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your comments and suggestions, Rita. We hope our report has highlights some key issues surrounding the distribution of collector stamps. We are not currently planning an audit or review benchmarking foreign philatelic initiative; however, we welcome your comments and may use suggestions in the future.

    Aug 20, 2015
  • anon

    A true philatelic rarity does not happen "intentionally", but is usually known and publicized through individual's long term collecting, constant learning, and discovering. The 100 upright Jenny panes were created intentionally, which is different from a typical stamp printed with error, or "unintentionally" printed but "intentionally" distributed through philatelic promotional means (such as the 1994 legends of the west recalled sheets). There are several recent/modern philatelic rare product examples, however, the distribution through random and/or "lottery" process (including give away to random collectors) does not motivate ordinary stamp collectors to buy as many panes as one's budget allows, in order to own one of the 100 panes in existence. I sincerely suggest that USPS to promote this type of modern philatelic limited edition stamp (not product such as the 2013 inverted jenny collector's edition stamp book) by a limited time only, first come, first served basis. This would ensure fairness, and reward true long-term philatelist a chance to own the special desirable item.

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your comments, Wayne. We hope our report has highlighted the issues surrounding the creation and distribution of a philatelic rarity.

    Aug 20, 2015
  • anon

    I want the USPS to STOP manufacturing rarities for revenue. Philatelic rarities should be just that, an accident, not an on purpose. And as with many collectors, I do not want to see living movie stars on stamps again, i.e. the Harry Potter stamps. I know that some rules have changed but stamps have traditionally honored citizens after death. Can you imagine the lobbying to be on a stamp among people with huge egos? Why would Donald Trump, or some other narcissit, not generate enough petitions to be on a stamp? Please make the USPS obey some standard rules. Thank you.

    Aug 17, 2015
  • anon

    Thank you for your comments, Bernice. The scope of our report did not address the types of images used on collector stamps. We are currently not planning additional audits or reviews in this area. However, we appreciate your viewpoint and archive comments for potential use in the future.

    Aug 20, 2015

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