10 most valuable American stamps

14. 06. 2021
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Some stamps are the first copies, others have printing errors and others are simply rare and old - these factors rank the American stamps below among the most sought after.

Signs - what attracts us to them?

What attracts people on stamps in the first place? Why are we excited to see Wonder Woman, astronauts, presidents or Americans on these little pieces of sticky paper? Maybe it's because they represent so many things at once: they're art, they're history, they're antiques, they're money, they're also miniatures - all wrapped up in the romance of the letters they set in motion.

Those who collect stamps the most - philatelists - prepare for a precious moment. In October, the collection of the American King of Bonds, William H. Gross, will be put up for auction at the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York. As noted by Cheryl Ganz, curator emeritus of the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum in Washington, Gross's collection of American stamps is unparalleled in the history of private collecting. As the world of philately prepares for a major event, we look back at the dozen rarest stamps in American history.

Inverted Jenny

Courtesy of the Siegel Auction Gallery

There is talk that this may be the rarest stamp with an error in US history. Undoubtedly, Inverted Jenny is one of the most famous. The aircraft shown on the stamp is a JN-4HM biplane, designed by Curtiss during World War I (during World War I, the JN-4 was a training machine for 95% of American pilots). Philately, like many other hobbies, likes to use feedback: the JN-4HM was the first aircraft used to deliver mail.

A printing error caused that the blue vignette - the plane and the air around it - was printed upside downwhile the red frame bordering the scene was printed correctly. The error appeared only on a single sheet of 100 stamps, which has since been divided. Thus, there are usually only individual specimens of the stamp, although two more blocks of four pieces have been preserved. In 2016, the only Inverted Jenny sold at auction for $ 1.

Jennies - military biplanes - were modified for the government air mail with additional fuel tanks, a special engine and space for transporting consignments. However, they often crashed. The very first flight of the US Post Office ended in disaster on May 15, 1918. The pilot flew in the wrong direction and crashed into a farmer's field, ironically in the neighborhood of a property owned by Otto Praeger, a post office official responsible for airmail. "None of the first-day mailers reached their destination," said Scott Trepel, president of the Siegel Auction House. "They didn't have to send them again until the next day."

Block of 16 stamps with Benjamin Franklin from 1847

Stamps with Benjamin Franklin from 1847 (Photo provided by the Siegel auction gallery)

Year 1847 was very important to the marks: it was the first time people could buy stamps from the United States government and stick them on their letter as a method of prepayment for its delivery (legislation was adopted in 1845). This is one example of the first U.S. federal stamps. Naturally, a large amount of correspondence was also delivered before 1847 - the American Post Office was founded in 1792 - but these letters were mostly paid for by the recipient.

Benjamin Franklin, who decorated George with the first stamps, has a fascinating history with the fascinating history of the post office. In 1775, after his return from England, Franklin was appointed by the Continental Congress as director of the post offices of the independent colonies. But before that, in 1753, he had been appointed director of the post offices of the American colonies by the British Crown, a place he shared with William Hunter. Franklin was relieved of this post when it was discovered in 1774 that he was opening a post office (between English authorities) and revealing the contents of his correspondence to his rebel friends - later known as the Hutchinson affair.

Annual stamp from 1765 or 1766

Battle of Yorktown (Photo: Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images)

Trademark Act, approved by the British Parliament in 1765, often cited as one of the immediate causes of the American Revolution, was in fact, by tax law. The tax was levied on American paper used for legal, official or everyday utility documents: shipping documents, business licenses, calendars, declarations, inventory, etc. - even playing cards. The "stamp" was affixed to the paper to indicate that the tax had been paid. Although the amount required by law was negligible and the law was repealed the following year, the damage had already been done.

The colony was outraged by the idea that anyone outside their elected representatives could tax them. Violence and intimidation ensued, forcing stamp collectors to resign, and stamp-carrying ships were driven from ports. Colonial speakers, such as Patrick Henry, as well as newspapers, addressed the issue of English tyranny, which took the form of taxation without representation, which created a wave of revolution about 10 years later.

"Blue Boy" - a temporary stamp from the post office in Alexandria

Postage stamp "Blue Boy" (courtesy of Siegel Auction Gallery). A painting of The Blue Boy by Thomas Gainsborough, 1770.

Blue Boy means for American philately something like Mona Lisa. Between 1845, when Congress set federally standardized rates for postage, and 1847, when the first federal postage stamps were printed, individual post offices in the districts and cities of 29 U.S. states issued their own temporary stamps. And the postmasters were really creative in their designs. For example, provisional stamps in St. Louis is depicted with two bears holding the United States coat of arms.

Of particular interest are these temporary stamps from Alexandria, which were returned from the state of Columbia to Virginia in those years. It is known that there are seven such marks, but most of them have a brown-yellow color. Only one of them is bright blue - it was found in a love letter sent in 1847, which was to be burned by its recipient. According to the famous portrait of a boy in a fancy blue dress, the stamp was named "Blue Boy" by the English painter Thomas Gainsborough.

Illustration from 1869 - inverted center errors

Stamp with inverted illustration from 1869. Signature of the Declaration of Independence, John Trumball.

Stamp collectors love rarities, primacy and mistakes - and these stamps have all three attributes at once, plus a bit of politics. The stamps were not printed until the reign of President Ulysses S. Grant, although the original edition was intended as early as 1868 during a tense period following the indictment of Andrew Johnson, who remained in power.

These highly controversial stamps were the very first American stamps printed using two colors and were withdrawn after one year. They record scenes such as Columbus' arrival in America, whereas previously only portraits appeared on stamps. These illustrated stamps are also the first example of a post office printing error. In order to print in more than one color, each color had to be printed separately; the inaccurate placement of several sheets in the print upside down resulted in the first American invert errors.

When a block of 1938 Illustrations (1869 cent inverts with a painting by John Turnbull, The Declaration of Independence) was sold at an auction in London in 24, it attracted worldwide attention. It was the first time a transatlantic telephone line had been used to purchase an item at auction.

Two percent blue Hawaiian missionary

Blue Hawaiian mission stamp. Stanley Donen's 1963 comedy The Charade, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

In 1963, Life magazine stated that this "Pound for Pound" mark is the most valuable thing on Earth."The stamp dates back to 1851, when Hawaii was a sovereign state and a popular destination for American missionaries spreading the gospel. Nevertheless, the postmaster of the Kingdom of Hawaii was an American, and the post offices in Honolulu and San Francisco were well connected. Collectors love these stamps not only because they have been very rarely preserved, but also because of their strange numbers.

Interestingly, the two-cent stamp did not serve its original purpose much - its only use was for the daily press or a reward for the captains of the ships (they then received 2 cents for each letter transported). Audrey Hepburn fans certainly know a similar mark from the 1963 Charade film with Cary Grant, but it has one catch. In this film, where the Hawaiian missionary stamp plays a key role in intrigue, its value is 3 cents, but there was no such thing as a 3-cent missionary, the marks were only 2-cent, 5-cent, and 13-cent.

Stolen Pony Express from 1860

Stolen Pony Express Writing (courtesy of Siegel Auction Gallery); The Pony Express rider is being chased by Native Americans.

This stamp offers insight into the American myth of "cowboys and Indians". Founded in 1860, Pony Express was a private postal service, using a network of young riders and post offices that allowed the post office to travel across the country in about 10 days (the alternative was a stagecoach or ship). Its parent, Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company, are stamped on this envelope. One of the Express riders, traveling east through Nevada in 1860, was missing. Two years later, his mailbag was found and contained two envelopes, which are preserved to this day and bear a handwritten inscription: "Saved from the post office, stolen by the Indians in 1860."

Ponny Express was shrouded in many legends (Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok claimed to be his couriers; but there is no evidence of it), the uniforms lasted only 19 months and were in fact more of an advertising ploy for three businessmen trying to get from the government to the postal service contract.

Panamerican invert

Pan American Invert Stamp (courtesy of Siegel Auction Gallery); Assassination of President McKinley. (Photo: DEA / A. Dagli Orti / De Agostini / Getty Images)

The key theme of the six commemorative stamps - including the Niagara Falls Bridge and the steam engine - issued in 1901 to commemorate the Pan-American exhibition held in Buffalo, New York, was transportation. As the stamps were printed in two colors, there was an opportunity for the error and illustrations on sheets with 1, 2 and 4 cent marks were turned upside down.

The Panamerican Expo is famous for its assassination of President William McKinley, rather than its stamps or Jumb - a 9-ton elephant, the hero of the British wars in Afghanistan (who overturned his owner and was later executed). On September 6, he was shot twice in close proximity by anarchist Leon Czolgosz during the greetings of the fair participants. He died eight days later as a result of his injuries (his vice president, Teddy Roosevelt, was so sure of the president's recovery that he went camping in the Adirondacks).

CIA Invert

Inverted CIA stamp (courtesy of Siegel Auction Gallery); Official emblem of the Central Intelligence Agency. (Credit: Bettmann Archive / Getty Images)

CIA agents are deleted. Between 1975 and 1981, the post office issued a series of Americana stamps, four of which depicted light sources. One of them, a one-dollar stamp with a colonial lamp and a candlestick, was printed upside down on a single sheet of 100 stamps. In 1986, the CIA, with 95 remaining stamps, was purchased at a post office in Mclean, Virginia, by nine CIA agents who noticed the errors (the remaining five stamps were unknowingly sold by the post office and were to be used to pay for regular postage).

Agents replaced the rare stamp with a regular one-dollar issue, and then sold the 85-inverted stamp sheet (plus one damaged one) to a collector for $ 25. Each of the agents kept one mark for himself. A scandal soon followed, and the agency demanded that the agents return the stamps or be removed from office (after all, the stamps were purchased for taxpayers' money). Four agents returned the stamps, four resigned or were fired, and one agent claimed to have lost his stamp and retained the job.

Stock Exchange Invert

New York Stock Exchange Stamp (courtesy of Siegel Auction Gallery); New York Stock Exchange meeting under Buttonwood Tree on Wall Street. (Photo: Bettmann Archive / Getty Images)

This mark is valued not only because it is inverted, but also because it is the last inverted stamp issued by the United States Post in 1992. Commemorates the 200th anniversary of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The existence of only 56 pieces of these stamps is known. The inverted center is lined with a green border with red numbers, and depicts a scene of modern traders standing under the center of stock exchange monitors and a view of the neoclassical facade of the stock exchange on Wall Street no. 11.

The NYSE was unofficially founded on May 17, 1792, when 24 stockbrokers signed the Buttonwood Agreement, which stated that brokers could only trade with each other and that the commission was 0,25 percent. The signing took place under a buttonwood in front of the 68th Wall Street building. The deal was reached after William Duer's excessive loans (and failures) caused financial panic earlier this year.

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