The Gold and Silver Mine: Is the U.S. Postal Service getting into the lottery business?

January 15, 2014 in Collecting, Education, History, News, Stamps

By: Douglas Keefe. January 14th, 2014 (

A weekly column dedicated to “digging out” current information about precious metals, coins and other numismatics.

Stamp collecting is the first serious hobby I embarked on, starting while in the fourth grade and continuing for many years after.

In fact when I opened my first stores, first here in Brigantine and later in the Shore Mall, the only items I dealt with were coins, stamps and metal detectors (hence the name Beachcomber).

Because I still have a soft spot in my heart for stamp collecting, I will occasionally write an article about stamps. This is one.

By 1918 air travel, though still in its’ infancy, was becoming more commonplace.

The post office, in order to speed up the delivery of mail, decided to use airplanes for that purpose. Because this would be a more expensive mode of transit, they decided to print airmail stamps in a higher value than the regular 2-cent and 3-cent rates that were used in overland transit. The first airmail stamps were printed in 6 cent, 16 cent and 24 cent denominations, the difference being for weight and length of transit. The stamps featured the portrait of a bi-plane (an airplane with two wings that was common at that time) known as the Curtiss “Jenny.” Curtiss being the name of the company that manufactured the airplane.

The first two stamps were printed in one color, orange and green respectively, but it was decided the 24-cent stamp should be printed in two colors, red for the border and dark blue for the airplane. Because of printing techniques at that time the stamp, which was printed in sheets of 100, had to be fed through the printing press twice, once for each color. As can happen, one sheet of stamps had the airplane printed upside down (inverted) and this sheet got past the inspectors and was sold to a very lucky individual. This created one of the major rarities of United States stamps, although not unique because other stamps that went through the two-step printing process also ended up with inverted centers.

Fast forward to 2013. The U. S. Postal Service has evidently decided to get into the lottery business as they have reprinted this famous stamp in the form of a sheet featuring six of the inverted stamps in a denomination of $2 instead of the original 24 cents, making the sheet valued at $12.  However, 100 sheets were printed with the airplane right side up, not inverted. These sheets are sold in sealed envelopes, so the purchaser has no way of knowing in advance what stamp they are purchasing. This needless to say has created quite a controversy as well as a demand for the right side up variety, with offers in the tens of thousands of dollars for their purchase from the lucky finder.

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