OKAY, WE THINK we've got it straight now. The postage stamp in Figure 1 is upside-down. Or rather it's right side up, but the candlestick is upside-down. It was a mistake by the government's presses, which makes this one-dollar stamp roughly as valuable per square inch as a Van Gogh. The stamp in Figure 2 is not a mistake. It shows the flame and the halo of light attached to the candlestick, just the way the government printers intended it. That makes it worth one buck.

On Wednesday The Post ran a picture of the upside-down-printed stamp, but it ran it with the flame and halo at the bottom -- in other words, upside-down. The New York Times made the same mistake in early editions (if mistake it is -- a matter of some dispute) but corrected it in later editions. Yesterday The Post ran a story about the upside-down stamp accompanied by a picture of it right side up -- that is, with the candlestick upside-down. Although the candlestick is the most prominent object in the stamp, it was printed after the flame and halo, whose priority in the printing process (mistaken as the process was) determined which end of the stamp was to be up.

According to news reports a small and unidentified group of CIA employees was able to figure all this out. It is alleged that they noticed the flawed batch of stamps at their office and sold the bulk of them to a dealer for a nice price. Whether this was wrong remains to be seen, but it certainly was astute. Most of us, confronted with a similar opportunity would have taken those absurdly valuable bits of paper and used them to mail in the payments on the electric bill and Visa card. We say "absurdly valuable" with a certain bitterness, you understand, being in a line of business that produces more than its share of misprints, none of which ever adds to the value of the paper unless it says something truly humiliating, like "Dewey Beats Truman."

Figure 1 Figure 2