FOR MOST stamp collectors, 1987 seems certain to be remembered as the year of the upside-down stamp, most notably the inverted $1 rush-lamp stamp collectors now call "the CIA invert."
That's a tribute to the anonymous CIA workers who discovered the now famous stamp in the agency's supplies and sold a nearly complete sheet of them to a New Jersey dealer for a handsome profit.
Last week collectors again were snapping up inverted stamps in Washington and at big prices. The occasion was the annual "Gems of Philately" sale held by John W. Kaufmann Inc., the H Street stamp and coin auctioneer.
What was reported to be the only known copy of a famous 1869 inverted 24-cent stamp still on its original envelope sold for $85,000, somewhat below its expected sale price of about $100,000, according to a Kaufmann official.
The stamp celebrates the Declaration of Independence and is a part of what was one of the earliest U.S. commemorative series. Another inverted stamp from that same series, a 30-cent stamp with upside down flags, sold for $25,000, and an inverted 15-cent stamp showing Columbus landing in the New World went for $8,000, according to the auction firm.
What was equally impressive to some was the sale of a single inverted Iranian stamp for $47,500. That seemed to confirm the price of $200,000 reported earlier in the year for a block of four of the stamps. The stamps were issued in 1957 and contain an inverted portrait of the late Shah of Iran.
A sheet of 100 of the stamps was mysteriously whisked out of Iran and disclosed by Coach Investments Inc. of New York. The value placed by the New York firm on some of its stamps has drawn criticism from some longtime collectors. But the sale by the Kaufman firm, which reportedly obtained the stamps from a former Iranian government official, should for the moment at least quieten some of the critics.
Collectors of maritime subjects and sports issues should be delighted with two of the Postal Service's 1988 offerings: the Connecticut statehood stamp and the 1988 Winter Olympics issue.
The Olympic stamp will be issued January 10 in Anchorage, Alaska, a gesture by the Postal Service that may bolster the U.S. Olympic Committee's bid to host the 1994 games in that city. The 1988 winter games are being held in Calgary in February.
Although the Postal Service once issued Olympic stamps only for games played in the United States, it has been issuing stamps for the games since 1972 regardless of where they are being played.
The 1988 stamp, featuring an alpine skier slicing through a slalom gate, was designed by Bart Forbes of Dallas. The 22-cent commemorative is in the vertical format and carries the words "Olympics 88" on the left side of the stamp and has the five interlocking Olympic rings after the wording "22 USA."
The Connecticut stamp is one of seven the Postal Service will issue next year honoring the states that ratified the Constitution in 1787. It will debut January 9, the 200th anniversary of the date that Connecticut became the fifth state.
Designed by Christopher Calle of Ridgefield, Conn., the 22-cent vertical features a view of a 19th-century harbor, a tribute to the state's maritime heritage. The scene is taken from a view of Mystic Seaport and the Charles W. Morgan berthed there. It is the last wooden full-rigged whaling ship known to have survived from the days of sail.
First-day ceremonies for the stamp will be held in the Old State House in Hartford and will feature Gov. William A. O'Neill and postal officials.
Collectors wishing first day covers of the Connecticut stamp must have their requests postmarked by February 8. Individuals affixing their own stamps may send them to: Customer-affixed envelopes, Connecticut Stamp, Postmaster, Hartford, CT 06101-9991. The Postal Service will affix stamps to up to 50 envelopes at 22 cents each at Connecticut Stamp, Postmaster, Hartford, CT 06101-9992.
The deadline for the Olympic stamp cover is February 9. Collectors may send their envelopes with the stamp attached to: Customer-affixed envelopes, Olympics Stamp, Postmaster, Anchorage, AK 99502-9991. Those wishing the USPS to attach the stamps should send their addressed envelopes to Olympic Stamp, Postmaster, Anchorage, AK 99502-9992.
Bill McAllister is a member of The Washington Post national staff.