Philatelic society offering $100,000 reward for return of stolen rare stamps

CAMDEN, N.Y. — A reward of up to $100,000 is being offered to locate two of the world’s most famous rare postage stamps that are still missing after they were stolen from the exhibit of a wealthy New York City woman in Virginia nearly 60 years ago. They were part of an intact block of four stamps from the fabled sheet of 100 “Inverted Jenny” airmail stamps mistakenly printed in 1918 with an upside down image of a Curtis Jenny airplane.

“It’s possible that the two remaining missing stamps were innocently acquired by collectors

Inverted Jenny Stamp

Recovered in 1981 and now owned by the American Philatelic Research Library, this is one of the two recovered, famous 1918 “Inverted Jenny” misprinted 24¢ airmail stamps that was part of New York City collector Ethel B. McCoy’s intact block of four stamps stolen in 1955.  A reward of $50,000 each now is being offered for the two stamps that are still missing after nearly 60 years. (Photo courtesy American Philatelic Research Library)

decades ago who did not realize they had been stolen. With the passage of time, the heirs of those collectors may not realize they’ve inherited stolen property,” said Donald Sundman, President of Mystic Stamp Company in Camden, New York.

Sundman is offering the reward of $50,000 per stamp on behalf of their current, legal owners, the American Philatelic Research Library in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

He made the reward announcement, Saturday, September 13, 2014, at Aerophilately 2014, an annual convention of airmail stamp collectors held at the American Philatelic Society headquarters in Bellefonte.
For 19 years the stamps were the prize possession of Ethel B. McCoy (1893 – 1980), a patron of performing arts and an avid collector whose father, Charles Bergstresser, was a co-founder of the Dow Jones company.

She acquired the block of four Inverted Jenny 24-cent denomination airmail stamps for $16,000 in 1936, and it was stolen in September 1955 while on exhibit at the American Philatelic Society convention in Norfolk, Virginia.

The block was broken apart, and one of the stolen stamps was discovered in 1977, another in 1981. Both were recovered with the participation of the FBI.

Before she died at the age of 87 in 1980, McCoy donated both of them along with the legal rights to the two still missing stamps to the American Philatelic Research Library.
McCoy’s first husband, Bert A. Stewart, a coin collector, died in 1936. In 1941 she married a prominent stamp collector, Walter R. McCoy, and they were active in philatelic organizations. In 1937 she was named a director of the American Air Mail Society and was posthumously named to the American Philatelic Society Hall of Fame in 1981.

“The Inverted Jenny stamps are a philatelic treasure, but title to the two missing McCoy stamps belongs to the library. If someone tried to sell one of them now, it would be seized and they’d have nothing. This is an opportunity to turn in the stamps for a $50,000 reward for each one, assuming they have not been damaged beyond recognition,” Sundman explained.

Only 100 of the legendary Inverted Jenny stamps were ever reported, all coming from a single sheet purchased in 1918 at a Washington, D.C. Post Office by William T. Robey for their combined face value, $24. In short order, the sheet changed hands and it was broken apart, sometimes as single stamps, sometimes as blocks.

“Many people who have never licked a stamp hinge know about the Post Office printing error that produced an inverted biplane on a 24¢ airmail stamp in 1918. To them it is ‘the

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upside-down airmail stamp’ and immediately recognizable as a symbol of stamp collecting,” said Rob Haeseler, Chairman of the American Philatelic Research Library’s McCoy Reward Committee.

In 2005, Sundman traded one of the two known 1868 Ben Franklin one-cent denomination “Z Grill” postage stamps for the unique, numbered plate block of four Inverted Jenny stamps then owned by Wall Street bonds trader Bill Gross. The exchange was valued at $6 million at the time.

The reward offer for the missing McCoy stamps is being made by Sundman for one year, through September 2015. Anyone with information about the missing stamps can contact the American Philatelic Society at 800-782-9580 extension 246 or by email at Jenny@stamps.org.

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