One-page autograph letter signed “W. T. Robey” on Robey’s printed stationery, dated “May 15, 1918”, with an intriguing date correction--the intended “15” is confirmed by the accompanying transmittal envelope with a clear May 15 machine postmark
THE ONLY RECORDED LETTER SIGNED BY WILLIAM T. ROBEY, ANNOUNCING HIS ACQUISITION OF THE 24-CENT INVERTED JENNY ERROR, ARGUABLY THE MOST FAMOUS STAMP IN ALL OF PHILATELY.
Robey’s letter to Elliott Perry, a stamp dealer and philatelic luminary, was written one day after Robey purchased the invert sheet at the New York Avenue branch post office in Washington, D.C. The letter announces his discovery and asks if Perry is “interested” in buying it:
Did you receive my telegram. I have secured a sheet of 100 with inverted center, the only one in existence at this date. Are you interested.
Yours very truly
W. T. Robey
The back of the letter has Perry’s draft reply, which is crossed out with “Not sent”:
Yes I am interested in sheet of inverts and would like you to forward it on approval at once, stating net price for any [crossed out] all or any part. Can [crossed out] Will give you an immediate answer.
The complete story of the discovery of the Inverted Jenny sheet by William T. Robey on May 14, 1918, followed by his unsuccessful efforts to find a buyer during his few days of ownership and his deal with Eugene Klein to sell the sheet for $15,000, is presented in this catalogue. It is also found at https://invertedjenny.com and was the subject of The Inverted Jenny: Money, Mystery, Mania by George Amick and more recently The Stamp of the Century by Kellen Diamanti and Deborah Fisher.
On the morning of May 15, the day after purchasing the invert sheet, Robey mailed this letter to Elliott Perry. It was delivered shortly after 6:00 p.m., before Perry left for a dinner party. Perry wrote out a draft reply on back, but never sent it. Instead, Perry tried calling Robey by phone later that evening, unsuccessfully at 10:30 p.m. and then again at 11:00 p.m., when Robey answered the call and a discussion took place. Perry’s pencil notes on the letter include the names of dealers--Percy Mann, Stanley Gibbons, Percy Doane and Wendover Neefus--probably because Robey said he intended to offer the sheet to them. There are other notations, including “$50,000” and “$500.” In a separate typewritten explanation of these notes given by Perry to Ethel B. McCoy in 1953 and 1957, he recollects that $50,000 was Robey’s asking price for the sheet and $500 was the price he would have to get per stamp. One of Perry’s hand-drawn shapes on the letter is repeated on the transmittal envelope, which has a 3¢ stamp tied by a “Washington D.C. May 15 8-AM 1918” machine cancel. Perry noted “Wednesday” at the top of the envelope (May 15 was a Wednesday).
Robey’s wording--“the only one in existence at this date”--reflected his concern that additional inverts might be found, thereby reducing the value of his sheet. At a meeting during the evening of May 14 in the office of Washington D.C. stamp dealer Hamilton F. Colman, Robey had been misinformed that three other error panes of 100 from a sheet of 400 must be in circulation. This erroneous statement was made by Joseph B. Leavy, who was at that time the first “Government Philatelist” in charge of the national stamp collection. Looking at the trimmed edges at the top and right of Robey’s invert sheet, Leavy assumed that the stamps had been printed in sheets of 400 and cut into four panes of 100. In fact, they were printed from 100-subject plates on the Bureau’s Spider Press and there never were three adjoining panes. Still, Robey, well aware that one year earlier, 5¢ Red error sheets (Scott 467 and 505) had plunged in value when more were discovered, feared that his 24¢ inverts might suffer the same fate.
Perry was the agent for Rep. Ernest R. Ackerman, a collector with the means to purchase the sheet. In response to Robey’s offer, Perry tried to secure a one-week right of first refusal and mailed a one-dollar silver certificate to Robey to confirm an agreement Perry believed they had reached in their late night phone call. A copy of Perry’s letter and Robey’s rejection letter are offered in this sale (lots 1534 and 1535). Before Perry could make a deal, Robey agreed to sell the sheet for $15,000 to Percy Mann and Eugene Klein, who had arranged to sell it to Colonel Edward H. R. Green.
The May 20 letter from Klein to Robey, confirming their deal, was sold in our sale of the Don David Price collection (Sale 1147, lot 8) for $42,500 hammer. This letter, in the hand of the discoverer, William T. Robey, with his historic announcement--“I have secured a sheet of 100 with inverted center”--is arguably the most important artifact of the Inverted Jenny discovery known to exist.
Western Union telegram received by Elliott Perry with purple typed message:
3 10 7 [crossed out]
WA WASHINGTON DC 520P 17
CARE WESTERN UNION TELEGRAPH CO. PHILADELPHIA PA
MR ROBEY WILL BE AT THE HOTEL MCALPIN NEW YORK TOMORROW
MRS W T ROBEY.
Blue “2443” handstamp and purple “1918 MAY 17 PM 5:48” receiving office timestamp at upper right.
Accompanied by original telegram transmittal envelope. The telegram has a piece torn out at top edge, but not affecting message.
On Friday afternoon, May 17, after a day’s work, Robey boarded the northbound train and arrived in New York City around 9:00 p.m. He was greeted at the Hotel McAlpin by Percy Doane and Elliott Perry, who had arranged to meet Robey and examine the sheet. The two dealers asked Robey if he had received any offers, and Robey informed them that he had turned down $10,000 (from Percy Mann). Robey went to sleep that night with a plan to find a buyer the next day. After several unsuccessful meetings, on Sunday, May 19, Robey left New York City with his sheet.
One-page autograph letter signed “W. T. Robey” on Robey’s printed stationery, dated “May 20, 1918”, with accompanying registered mail transmittal envelope with 3¢ and 10¢ stamps, purple “Washington (New York Ave. Sta.) D.C. Registered May 20, 1918” double-circle datestamps
Robey firmly informs Perry that his request for a right of first refusal was rejected and returns the one-dollar silver certificate Perry had sent to confirm the agreement (see lot 1535):
Upon my return home from New York this morning, I found your letter of the 16th inst enclosing a dollar. As I told you in New York I would not agree or accept anything of such a binding nature. I am herewith returning you the above mentioned dollar and wish to notify you that all negotiations for the sheet are at an end, as I have come to the final conclusion that the same is not for sale at any price.
Yours very truly
W. T. Robey
Perry wrote a note on back: “Deal closed Sunday May 19th in Phila. Percy Mann.”
Robey’s letter, dated May 20, states that he was no longer interested in selling the sheet “at any price.” This was disingenuous, because on his return from New York to Washington on Sunday, May 19, Robey met Percy Mann and Eugene Klein in Philadelphia and agreed to give them an option to buy the sheet for $15,000. Klein confirmed the purchase the next day, Monday, May 20, and Robey delivered the sheet to Klein in Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 21.
One-page carbon copy typed letter to William T. Robey, dated May 16 (Thursday), 1918, with Perry’s handwritten note “$1 Bill # Z750365572 Silver Certificate from B. A. Webber”
In this letter to Robey, Perry carefully recites the timeline of events and confirms a one-week right of first refusal Robey agreed to give Perry:
...it is understood between us that you are not to dispose of the sheet, or any part of it, without first affording me the opportunity to purchase, and that if I will pay an amount equal to the highest bona fide offer which you receive or obtain up to 11:30 P.M. Wednesday, May 22, 1918, you are to sell me the sheet.
The one-dollar silver certificate Perry enclosed was legal consideration for the right.
On Monday, May 20, Robey sent a registered letter to Perry (offered in lot 1534), refuting Perry’s account, returning the one-dollar bill, and stating that he was no longer interested in selling the sheet “at any price.” This was disingenuous, because on his return from New York City to Washington on Sunday, May 19, Robey met Percy Mann and Eugene Klein in Philadelphia and agreed to give them an option to buy the sheet for $15,000. Klein confirmed the purchase the next day, Monday, May 20, and Robey delivered the sheet to Klein in Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 21.
24¢ Carmine Rose & Blue, 1918 Air Post (C3), affixed upside down and tied by “Air Mail Service Wash. N.Y. Phila. Phila. May 24 12 M 1918” duplex datestamp on cover with red Chelten Electric Co. return address and addressed to Colonel Edward H. R. Green in New York City, receiving backstamp of the same day, addressed in the handwriting of noted stamp dealer Philip H. Ward, Jr.
News that Colonel Green purchased the sheet of 100 Inverted Jenny stamps for $20,000 was reported on May 21, the same day William T. Robey and his father-in-law delivered the sheet to Eugene Klein and collected their $15,000 certified check (see page 28 of the printed catalogue for clipping from The New York Times).
This airmail cover was addressed and stamped by Ward, using one of the 24¢ stamps issued for the new government airmail service. Ward, one of the leading stamp dealers of the era, undoubtedly affixed the stamp upside down in a deliberate expression of humor and congratulations to Colonel Green. Ward also wrote the service directive “Via Air Plane” and mistakenly used “E. H. S.” for Green’s initials (they were E.H.R. for Edward Howland Robinson).
Of the flight covers prepared by Ward, this is the first we have seen with the stamp upside down.
Two-page autograph letter signed “W. T. Robey” on Robey’s printed stationery, dated “Dec. 28, 1917”, enclosing check for $17.85 ($363.00 in today’s money) and stating:
I have never started to make a collection of anything but the U.S. stamps, not even the Colonies and think that it will be sometime before I start on these as I believe money put into the old U.S. Stamps now will in a few years be worth much more and will prove a good investment for anyone procuring same now...my collection is nearly complete from 1869 to date except for some of the Revenues.
This is a notable Robey letter, written about five months before his fortuitous visit to the post office to buy a sheet of the new 24¢ airmail stamp.
One-page autograph letter signed “W. T. Robey” on Robey’s printed stationery, undated, stating:
In regard to the Periodical enclosed. What value do you place on same and what would you accept for same in the way of Revenues. You know about what my collection contains which is almost intact as you saw it except for a few which I have recently sold.
Perry wrote a pencil draft reply:
Send along perf rev & I will see what I can give at 100% in trade. I have other high periodicals too.
This letter probably predates Robey’s discovery of the Inverted Jenny sheet. It shows the back-and-forth trade between Robey and Perry.
One-page autograph letter signed “W. T. Robey” on Robey’s printed stationery, dated “April 11, 1918”, stating:
In regard to the block of 5c Taylors. I have picked up another block off center with the imprint American Bank Note Co. at the bottom. If you can use this at the price of $12.00 let me know and I will send same to you for inspection.
Perry wrote a pencil draft reply:
Ans 4/13 Send on app[roval]. How about swap for my periodicals?
Written one month before Robey’s discovery of the Inverted Jenny.
Group of eleven letters, dated from November 15, 1917, to March 4, 1918 (one undated)
In the first letter Robey gives a reference, implying that he is just starting to do business with Perry. The letters mostly concern stamps Robey wishes to purchase from Perry. In one he asks for Departmental Specimens (Officials). In another he asks for blocks of U.S. stamps and asks for the catalogue number to be written on the back of each.
A fascinating group of letters that provides insight into their relationship prior to Robey’s discovery of the Inverted Jenny sheet. In the end, Robey rejected or failed to honor the first-refusal rights to the sheet claimed by Perry.
Accompanied by copies of Weekly Philatelic Gossip story of discovery as told by Robey and 1938 Philatelic Weekly article by Charles J. Phillips.
Two-page letter dated “June 14/1921” with William T. Robey’s promissory note to Oswell dated May 20, 1915 (due November 20, 1915) for $118.00, signed “W. T. Robey”
Letter states in part:
Tell him to send you $100 or $150 worth of stamps. After you receive them, let him know you bought his note from me. He quit Hibbs Sept. 1920 so you are supposed to have that note before he left Hibbs... he lost his house I understand so there is nothing to attach in that line.
With legal-size 2c entire in which the letter and enclosure were mailed to Perry, with pencil calculations at left.
This letter reflects how Robey’s fortunes took a turn for the worse after discovering and selling the Inverted Jenny sheet. Robey evidently owed Perry a sum of money in 1921.
Various typed and handwritten notes plus some articles relevant to Inverted Jenny, including copy of 1944 letter from Elliott Perry noting that Walter Scott told him he had soaked the gum off the no gum copies as they were found stuck together, 1938 typed letter from Mal Ganser to Perry, commenting on Robey’s recent article and pointing out differences in the telling now versus at time of discovery, several letters back and forth between Perry and Harry L. Jefferys as the former tried to secure a copy for the latter