04/15/2016 (P1770)

Stolen McCoy Inverted Jenny stamp
Recovered in New York City

(Bellefonte, Pennsylvania) – One of two long-missing “Inverted Jenny” stamps from a block of four stolen 61 years ago from an exhibit by New York City arts patron Ethel B. McCoy has been recovered, the American Philatelic Research Library (APRL) announced yesterday.

The world’s most famous and coveted postage stamp error is the United States 1918 red-and-blue 24¢ Curtiss Jenny airmail stamp mistakenly printed with an inverted center that makes it appear the biplane is flying upside down. The Scott catalog, the stamp hobby’s influential reference book, lists it as No. C3a and indicates a 2016 value of $350,000.

The McCoy Inverted Jenny block was stolen in 1955 and subsequently broken apart. Two of the four stamps were recovered in the 1970s and 1980s and returned to the APRL, to which McCoy donated all four stamps nearly 40 years ago.

The third stolen stamp suddenly surfaced April 1 when it was consigned for sale to the Spink auction firm in New York. It was certified as authentic by the Philatelic Foundation in Manhattan. Details of its whereabouts since the theft were not immediately known.

“We are all thrilled that it has been found,” said Roger Brody, president of the APRL, the nation’s largest public philatelic library, which is located in Bellefonte, Pa.

Examination by experts at the Philatelic Foundation indicated the stamp is position number 76 from the unique sheet of 100 stamp errors mistakenly sold to a collector over a post office counter in Washington, D.C., in 1918. “For legal purposes, the stamp has been place under the jurisdiction of the FBI,” said Scott English, executive director of the American Philatelic Society.

The FBI operates an art theft team that returns stolen works of art to their rightful owners.
For nearly two decades, the Inverted Jenny block was the prized 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.

In the 1986 book, The Inverted Jenny: Mystery, Money, Mania, author George Amick described McCoy as "...a woman of many interests. As the only child of one of the great innovators of American business and the wife of two other successful businessmen, she could afford to indulge them."

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.

McCoy acquired the block of Inverted Jenny airmail stamps -- positions 65, 66, 75 and 76 from the original pane of 100 -- for $16,000 from Spencer Anderson in 1936. The block was stolen in September 1955 while on exhibit at the American Philatelic Society convention in Norfolk, Virginia.
"The McCoy block was deftly plucked from the Norfolk exhibit in broad daylight as the show prepared to open for the day, “Amick wrote. “The thief cut a cord binding two of the exhibit frames and slid back the covering sheet of glass several inches. Armed guards had been stationed in the exhibit hall. A suspect has never been named."

One of the stolen stamps (position 75) was discovered in 1977, another (position 65) in 1981. Both were recovered with the participation of the FBI.

In 1981, the recovered position 75 Inverted Jenny was sold at auction on behalf of the APRL for $115,000. In 1988, the APRL offered a $10,000 reward for each of the two still-missing stamps, but neither one was located. To mark the approaching 60th anniversary of the theft in 2014, Donald Sundman, president of Mystic Stamp Company in Camden, New York, offered a reward of up to $50,000 each on behalf of APRL for the then two still-missing stamps. That reward offer is scheduled to expire on June 4, the last day of World Stamp Show – New York 2016.

"It's possible that the two remaining missing stamps were innocently acquired by collectors 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 Sundman when he announced the reward project.

The hobby's greatest cold case was the subject of a cover story by Ken Lawrence in the September 2014 issue of American Philatelist, the journal of the American Philatelic Society.

Lawrence wrote: "It’s likely that nearly everyone who might have personal knowledge of the theft and subsequent dispersal of the McCoy inverts has died, but perhaps they left behind evidence, or perhaps the stolen stamps reside in estates whose beneficiaries don’t know what they have. Let’s all do our best to spread the word. Recovering one or both of the missing McCoy inverts will not only benefit APRL financially, it will elevate the stature of our hobby, and it will add yet another page to an epic that is not likely to be completed in our lifetimes."

Anyone with information about the still missing McCoy Inverted Jenny stamp can contact The American Philatelic Society at 814-933-3803, extension 246, and submit an image via e-mail to jenny@stamps.org.

Scott English, American Philatelic Society/American Philatelic Research Library
Mobile: 803-312-4001
Email: scott@stamps.org

Rob Haeseler, American Philatelic Research Library
Mobile: (814) 933-6776  Email: robhaeseler@verizon.net

Ken Lawrence,
Mobile:  (814) 360-9508  Email: Apsken@aol.com

Donald Sundman, Mystic Stamp Co.
Mobile: (315) 263-2790  Email: dsundman@mysticstamp.com