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Auction of Stamps Bearing Upside-Down Planes

September 26, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ Two rare blocks of stamps, issued in 1918 when the United States launched the world’s first airmail delivery and inadvertently printed upside-down, fetched $1.21 million at auction.

The 24-cent stamps have become the most sought-after in the United States. The stamps’ picture of the airmail biplane Curtiss Jenny is the wrong way up.

One block of four stamps, taken from the lower left corner of the initial sheet of misprinted stamps, sold for $660,000 at a Christie’s auction Wednesday. The block bears the initials ″S De B.,″ for Samuel De Binder, who prepared the printing plates.

Another block of four stamps from the center of the sheet, which shows crossed printing guidelines engraved between the stamps, sold for $550,000.

The winning bids were made by the Columbian Stamp Co. of New York, which bought them on behalf of an anonymous American collector ″who is planning to own them and enjoy them,″ said company president Harry Hagendorf.

″Everybody knows about that stamp,″ Hagendorf said. ″It’s probably one of the most well-known stamps in philately. We felt we bought them advantageously.″

In October 1989, Christie’s sold a block of four Curtiss Jenny stamps for $1.1 million, a record auction price for a philatelic item from the United States. Those stamps bore the four-digit number of the printing plate.

The stamps sold Wednesday were from the collection of Arthur J. Kobacker, who heads the Kobacker Co., parent company of Picway Shoes. Kobacker plans to donate most of the proceeds to charity.

Ironically, the stamp’s misprinted image was not so unreal. The inaugural flight of airmail service on May 15, 1918, took off in the wrong direction and went down in a field, off-course, out of gas, and upside-down.

All auction prices include Christie’s 10 percent commission.

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