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.