Fake Real Stamps and Real Fake Stamps
October 7, 2013 10:30 AM   Subscribe

The U.S. Postal Service prints more than 20 billion stamps a year, the vast majority of which are perfect. However, tiny errors can make even humble 1-cent stamps worth many times more to collectors (or philatelists, if you're feeling formal). The most famous of these is perhaps the Inverted Jenny, which features a biplane flying upside down. Only 100 of the misprinted 24-cent airmail stamps issued in 1918 were found, and one can fetch nearly a million dollars at auction, or even appear in a Florida ballot box (that one was fake).

After nearly a century, the USPS seems to have developed a sense of humor over the mistake and is issuing new Inverted Jennys, this time priced at $2 and with a certain number printed correctly, complete with certificates of (in)authenticity.
posted by Etrigan (19 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
At first I was amused by this, but what am I going to use a $2 stamp for? Anything that I need more than one or two 46-cent First Class stamps for, I just take to the Post Office and pay for the postage directly. I don't really see a reason for this other than collectors, but if it keeps the USPS afloat, then so be it.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:17 AM on October 7, 2013

I had to go to the post office today so I held up the line and bought the pack. I'm going to give it to my kid as a Christmas present (since she's too young to get lottery tickets.)
posted by vespabelle at 11:36 AM on October 7, 2013

I think the USPS does a lot of stuff specifically for stamp collectors. It's sort of like if Franklin Mint still sold all those stupid plates but also had a constitutional mandate to maintain the nation's highways.
posted by theodolite at 11:37 AM on October 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Well it makes sense from the USPS' perspective. The stamps they sell to collectors probably won't ever be used to mail anything, so it's all profit.

$2 stamps are a bit of an oddball denomination, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:41 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Certificates of inauthenticity. Even the USPS has been reading Baudrillard.
posted by anewnadir at 11:51 AM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a vast collection of stamps that are all entirely printed upside down! It's almost like, er,...oh, never mind.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:01 PM on October 7, 2013

$2 stamps are a bit of an oddball denomination, though.

I'm sure that's exactly the point. These aren't stamps that are intended to be used. Unlike the state quarters where only a small portion are essentially taken out of circulation by collectors and can be deemed "pure profit" by the mint, the large majority of these will go into plastic sleeves and not cost the USPS a dime.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:32 PM on October 7, 2013

Do people still collect stamps? I did when I was, oh, around five years old and that's what five year old kids did while impatiently waiting for Faggin, Hoff and Shima to hurry up and invent the damn microprocessor already, but it struck me after a couple of years that it was a bit pointless. Back then, though, in the early 1970s, there was still quite a bit of cultural detritus floating around about stamp collecting; it got mentioned on the telly, there were plentiful small ads from stamp dealers, there were albums and hinges and stuff in the local newsagents.

All that seems to have gone. Might it be one of those markets that just disappears because nobody's interested any more?

(Did like the huge tin-foil circular Tonga stamps, though. Especially the purple and gold one.)
posted by Devonian at 12:37 PM on October 7, 2013

Do people still collect stamps?

So much so that hilarious fake stamps are apparently a real thing.

I tried desperately to fit this into the post, but I'm okay with putting it here.
posted by Etrigan at 1:11 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I sorted mail for the USPS one winter, and I saw a few groups of postcards advertising stamp collector meetings mailed with very old stamps.

I think that was the only thing I liked about the job.
posted by helicomatic at 1:56 PM on October 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

It seems like this would be a great target for counterfeiters. The USPS doesn't put anything like the care into printing stamps that the Treasury does into printing currency, for one thing. And a sheet of stamps is actually worth a non-trivial amount.

I guess the problem would be selling them.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:10 PM on October 7, 2013

what am I going to use a $2 stamp for?

Yeah, if they wanted them to be useful (as mentioned above, they may not have wanted that), they'd do better to print them at $2.53 which is the media mail rate for anything under a pound. From there, you can add another pound for 45 cents and according to the forums on paperbackswap and bookmooch, those who don't print at home often pre-buy stamps in these denominations.
posted by soelo at 3:23 PM on October 7, 2013

I'm sure collecting hilarious fake stamps can be just as rewarding a hobby as collecting actual postage stamps.
posted by ckape at 3:30 PM on October 7, 2013

.....if it only costs $2 why wouldn't you send a package with it? When I go to the Canadian post office you can ask to pick the stamps that your package will be sent with, and if they have a few choices they'll let you pick, at least the couple of times I have done it.
posted by Canageek at 6:11 PM on October 7, 2013

When I go to the Canadian post office you can ask to pick the stamps that your package will be sent with, and if they have a few choices they'll let you pick, at least the couple of times I have done it.

You can do that at a USPS office, but you will get some serious eye-rolling if it's anything but the current-hotness stamps or if you are a six-year-old kid who wants a cartoon stamp to put on the birthday card you're sending to Grandma.
posted by Etrigan at 6:15 PM on October 7, 2013

Do people still collect stamps?

Yes, but philately will get you nowhere.
posted by gingerest at 7:45 PM on October 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Like anything else, people do collect them, but I'm pretty sure that part of the attraction to kids, specifically, was the connection to faraway lands and such -- and that's easily enough gotten through the internets today. So the population of collectors is more of the same population that gets into oddball stuff to fill empty time as adults.

Etrigan, to some extent, but the staffers at our downtown postal branch, at least, seem to offer me a choice of stamp booklets every time. (I've just never found the one with the mallard by Norm Gunderson.)
posted by dhartung at 11:49 PM on October 7, 2013

When I send a package from the counter, they usually just print a label with the postage on it and stick it on themselves. They don't pick out individual stamps. If you buy a book of stamps, they let you pick, but the last time I did they only listed like three kinds for me to choose from.
posted by soelo at 8:39 AM on October 8, 2013

Etrigan: I was always super polite and thanked them, and would try and go when there wasn't a line of people behind me. It was kind of crazy, they had drawers of the things, except in the odd amounts (Like the amount to send a letter to the US, once it wasn't $1 anymore).

soelo: I've seen it both ways in Canada, depending on where you are sending it and if you have tracking and whatnot.
posted by Canageek at 1:32 PM on October 8, 2013

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