The U.S. Postal Service is about to repeat perhaps its most famous mistake, only this time it will do so on purpose.
On Sunday, the agency will begin selling $2 stamps commemorating a 1918 printing error, one in which an illustration of the first airmail flight appeared upside down while the rest of the images appeared rightside up.
The Postal Service is printing 2 million of the “Inverted Jenny” souvenir stamps to mark the opening of the Smithsonian’s William H. Gross Stamp Gallery, which will house the world’s largest stamp collection.
The Postal Service sold 100 of the original 24-cent stamps bearing what looked like an overturned Curtiss JN-4, or “Jenny,” aircraft in a rush to celebrate its move to the air. One of the stamps sold at an auction for nearly $1 million in 2007.
A press operator inadvertently caused the printing mistake by placing sheets upside down on the hand roller while applying blue ink for the aircraft. The rest of the stamp, printed separately in red, appeared rightside up.
Ironically, the historic post office flight itself was wrought with mistakes, according to an account from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum.
Army Lt. George Boyle, who was assigned to make the air delivery, climbed into the Jenny biplane and called for the propeller to be spun. But the aircraft didn’t start because it had no gas.
Surely, President Woodrow Wilson and other dignitaries on hand were unimpressed.
After fueling up, Boyle finally took off from Washington, D.C., headed for Philadelphia with 124 pounds of mail. But he never made it to the City of Brotherly Love. Instead, the novice pilot lost his bearings, ran out of gas and crash-landed less than 25 miles away in Maryland.
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