Value Flying High on Inverted-Plane Issue

<i> Krause is a free-lance writer and member of several national stamp-collecting organizations</i> .

Question: What is the famous air mail invert worth?--J.C.

Answer: I assume you are referring to the 24-cent U.S. air mail stamp of 1918 (Scott number C3a) with the airplane inverted in the center of the design. Current catalogue value is $115,000 for a mint copy, and all known specimens have never been canceled. A pane (sheet) of 100 of these stamps was purchased by William T. Robey when they were issued, and later these were sold for ever-increasing prices to wealthy collectors.

Although the stamp is rare and has a lot of romantic demand pushing its market value up, some copies come on the auction block every year, fetching prices from $50,000 up, depending on the condition of the stamp.

You might be interested to know that this stamp has been faked by clever forgers who cut out the airplane engraving from a genuine copy of the normal “right-side-up” version of this error, then pasted it carefully onto the center of a shaved-down stamp of this issue. Watermark and ultraviolet analysis would indicate this fake immediately, but novice collectors could be fooled for a time.


Of course, any expensive stamp should be guaranteed by the seller, and maybe come accompanied by expertizing certificates to assure its authenticity.

Q: My post-card collection of old Los Angeles views goes back to about 1910. There are about 700 cards with their original 1-cent stamps on them. Are these worth anything?--M.N.

A: Probably not much. Pre-1910 post cards are more in demand. Even 75 years ago many picture post cards were being printed and sold to tourists and post card collectors in Los Angeles.

Q: While stationed overseas in 1974, I purchased a stamp in Thailand. The stamp has not been circulated and is misprinted with the denomination “2 Bath” instead of “2 Baht.” Is there any value to it? If so, where would I find a buyer?D.D.


A: You have Scott catalogue No. 704 from Thailand, the “2 Bath” error stamp, first issued Sep. 19, 1974. Its current catalogue value is 35 cents mint, 25 cents used, so you can see that it is not of great value today. Not all stamp errors are valuable, and yours is a good example of this. The invisible law of supply and demand rules the stamp market, and the supply of the “2 Bath” Thai error is quite sufficient to satisfy collector demand the world over, hence its low catalogue value.

Q: How do U.S. air mails look now for investment purposes? I understand that they have a good track record in constant price appreciation.--K.M.

A: In the opinion of most stamp-market experts, many elusive U.S. stamps are currently underpriced and are set to move up gradually in value over the next decade. And I must emphasize long-term investment rather than short-term (say, one year) speculation for the best prospects of profits. For example, there are Scott catalogue No. C18 at about $100 mint for a choice copy, and No. C13-15 (the expensive Zeppelins) at around $2,000 to $3,000 retail for the set. Interest on bank accounts is guaranteed, though, so buy stamps with extra funds for hoped-for profits.

Q: What is the value of a plane out of position on U.S. Scott No. C11, the 5-cent Beacon air mail issue of 1928? I have one copy with the plane about midway between the beacon and the “AIR” panel. My other copy shows the plane slightly overlapping the word “AIR.” Is this a common error?--K.E.O.

A: Number C11 was printed in two colors, carmine red and blue. The center vignette and outside framework of the design are sometimes found to be misregistered, but of no special extra premium value, in my opinion.

When you consider the press run of C11, more than 100 million copies, then it seems logical that plenty of them are “off-center” and, therefore, of no particular error value. As you may know, some air mail philatelists specialize in collecting this stamp on covers of the time period when it was current, and they may be interested in obtaining printing varieties of it. But they shouldn’t have any trouble finding them, because the stamp isn’t rare today.

Q: Where do you begin to look for rare stamps? It seems like all I can find are cheap ones. How are those rarities discovered, the stamps that you hear about being found in somebody’s attic or garage and later auctioned off for thousands of dollars?--F.McG.

A: First of all, rare stamps are hard to find. Most of the fabulous discoveries that you read about or heard about from other collectors were found by chance.


Old correspondence, family scrap books, chests and drawers of mementos, old business files, and even antique cabinets and desks have all yielded their share of choice stamps.

Modern errors are occasionally noticed by alert collectors at the post office and are purchased over the counter at face value. It is nice to dream, but don’t expect to discover rare stamps on your own. A better way is to save up your money until you can buy them.

Q: While traveling through Sweden in the late 1960s, I picked up a quantity of souvenir sheets with stamps showing paintings by Ivan Agueli. What are these things worth today, and are they scarce items?--T.D.

A: Issued June 6, 1969, this souvenir sheet is listed at $2.75 mint, $5 canceled. This is an example of stamps that are worth more used than unused. Of course, the cancel should be genuine and of the time period when the stamps were issued, to justify the hefty discrepancy between cheaper mint and more expensive canceled prices.