Recently, a fascinating piece of news caught my attention on NPR: the sale of the “Inverted Jenny” stamp for a staggering $2 million. This story isn’t just a quirky anecdote about a philatelic error; it’s a profound illustration of how mistakes can transform into unexpected value, a theme central to my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us.
See it here via Twitter:
According to NPR, only a single sheet of 100 of the “inverted Jennys” (an upside-down air mail plane) was sold before the mistake was caught and sales were stopped.
In 1918, a printing error led to the issuance of a postage stamp featuring an upside-down image of the JN-4HM “Jenny” airplane. Only 100 of these stamps were sold before the mistake was caught. For over a century, this error turned the “Inverted Jenny” into one of the most coveted items among stamp collectors.
The journey of this particular stamp is notable. Preserved meticulously across three generations of a family, it remained hidden, only to reemerge as a pristine artifact. This aspect underscores the value of stewardship and the unexpected legacies we can leave behind.
One particular detail about the stamp getting past inspectors was hilarious to me:
“TREPEL: People weren’t familiar with what they looked like, and so the inverted plane on the stamp slipped through the inspectors, slipped through the clerk at the post office. And even he said, you know, look. Don’t blame me. I don’t know what a plane looks like, so I didn’t recognize it when I sold it.”
Asking people to inspect the image of something they had never seen… an airplane. That’s unfair, but funny.
Congrats to the seller for benefitting from this mistake!
Lessons in Value and Mistakes:
- Mistakes as Value Creators: The “Inverted Jenny” is a prime example of how errors can create value. In the world of collectibles, and beyond, uniqueness and stories often define value more than perfection.
- The Human Factor in Errors: This incident highlights the inevitability of human error, especially in the face of new technologies or concepts. It’s a reminder that mistakes are often the byproduct of exploration and innovation.
- Long-term Perspective on Mistakes: The story of this stamp teaches us about the long-term perspective on errors. What might seem like a blunder today could turn into something valuable or insightful in the future.
- Preservation and Legacy: The way this stamp was preserved and passed down through generations speaks to the idea of legacy. Our actions, mistakes included, can have lasting impacts beyond our immediate understanding.
The “Inverted Jenny” serves as a perfect metaphor for the themes explored in The Mistakes That Make Us. It’s a reminder that mistakes are not just mishaps to be corrected but can be stepping stones to unique forms of value and learning. As we navigate our professional and personal lives, embracing and learning from our mistakes can lead to unanticipated and rewarding journeys.