Freaks and Errors continues, we’re sitting here in Southern California at an auction held by H.R. Harmer, one of the oldest (and most divided) stamp houses in the world. Normally, flying across the country to sit through 9 hours of of stamp lot bidding (imagine the stereotypical auction that is ingrained in your head, now pretend that someone came in and tea bagged the whole room with a monkey tranquilizer and you’re watching the “action” unfold). What makes this one different is 2 stamps. 2 stamps out of over 4000 lots (some lots have more than one stamp in them) are the stars of this show, as they have been for almost 100 years.
Before we get to our hero’s though, let’s set up the scene. Stamp auctions are set up in two rooms; first a viewing room, filled with hundreds of cartons, banquet tables, magnifying glasses, reference books, tongs (not the banana hammock type, the tweezer type) and lighter fluid. You’d think have gallons of lighter fluid in the same room as millions of dollars worth of paper would be a good idea, but it’s not, it’s a necessity. The lighter fluid is used to detect watermarks on the stamps and as we go into hour 8, it’s going to be used on on Mike’s (our DP) eyes to keep him awake. Everyone is expressionless, it’s truly remarkable, it’s like every collector is issued a poker face in a game that they’re playing by themselves.
The other room is where the live auction is being held (picture the viewing room, except make everyone face the front and remove the cartons). The bidders come in multiple forms, in person on the floor, on the phone and over the internet (which the auctioneer keeps referring to them as “the net”). The lots are read in sequential order and at the rate we are going, about 125 an hour, there seems to be rush, not much movement and no one seems to have to pee.
The 2 we are waiting for are a couple examples of the infamous “Inverted Jenny”, a stamp that was printed as an error in 1918. It is rare when one of the 77 known copies of this stamp come up for auction, even rarer when two come up in the same auction. The Inverted Jenny was misprinted when a missed plate change resulted in the biplane (a Curtiss Jenning JN-4) to be printed upside down. These 2 examples are not the best, but at an estimated selling of $250,000 to $350,000, I guess it doesn’t matter.