Absentee ballot mailed with seemingly rare stamp
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Nov. 8, 2006 06:20 PM
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - How much is one vote worth?
In the case of an absentee ballot and an antique stamp, it could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
That's the value of a 1918 Inverted Jenny, one of the rarest stamps in the world, which Broward County, Fla., elections officials said was affixed to an envelope containing an absentee ballot.
The stamp, similar to one that sold in mint condition for $525,000 last year, was canceled. So was the ballot, which contained no clue to the identity of the voter. The mystery unfolded at the elections office Tuesday evening, when County Commissioner John Rodstrom, a member of the county's Canvassing Board, noticed an unusual stamp on a large white envelope carrying an absentee ballot.
A former stamp collector, Rodstrom immediately recognized the unmistakable blue and red image of an upside-down biplane: the Inverted Jenny.
"It's very rare, it was in all of the stamp books," he said. "Only so many of these came off the presses."
One hundred, to be exact.
A sheet containing that number of stamps was printed in error with the biplane upside down. It was sold by mistake in 1918 and collectors have been chasing the Inverted Jenny ever since. In October 2005, an unnamed collector paid $2.9 million for a four-stamp block of Jennys.
The 24-cent stamp was named for the plane it depicted, a Curtiss JN-4 World War I trainer that later delivered air mail.
At the elections office, Deputy Kevin Jurgens, another philatelist, or stamp collector, confirmed for Rodstrom that the stamp indeed appeared to be the vaunted rarity.
"I knew that it was one of the most valuable stamps in a collection," Rodstrom said.
"I doubt that," said Mitch Kopkin, proprietor of the Tropical Stamp shop in Fort Lauderdale. "It's highly unlikely" the stamp in question is an actual Inverted Jenny. "It could be a forged stamp," Kopkin said.
All but five or six of the original 100 Jennys have been traced, Kopkin said. But that doesn't mean a widow or heir couldn't have inherited a true one and unthinkingly stuck it on the envelope, he added.
The ballot was disqualified because it contained no identification.
According to elections office spokeswoman Mary Cooney, absentee voters can mail their ballot in a small envelope that bears their printed name and signature, and acts as the certification that the voter is legitimate.
The voters also have the option, in case of privacy concerns, of mailing the smaller envelope inside a larger, unmarked one for 87 cents postage.
The anonymous voter mailed the ballot inside the larger envelope, without the required small certification envelope, and used the suspected Inverted Jenny as one of the stamps.
"We have no way of knowing who it was from," Cooney said. "There was no return address on the outer envelope."
The stamp is in storage. "After it left the Canvassing Board it was put in a bin and sealed," said elections office spokeswoman Mary Cooney.
It and other paperwork, as required by law, must be archived for almost two years, Cooney said. Then, "We destroy them," she said.
"That would be a tragedy," Kopkin said, if the stamp proves a true collectible. And if so, even though it has been canceled, it could still fetch $50,000 to $200,000 depending on condition. "There would be more of story to it," he said.
Cooney said elections supervisor Brenda Snipes is too busy with balloting to focus on the stamp.
"She's not going to be able to take any time to even look at it until after the (ballot) certification on Monday," Cooney said.
But Rodstrom has definite designs on the Jenny.
"It is now public property," he said. "We have the responsibility to make sure that stamp is sold at auction and we get the most for it we can possibly get and put it into our budget."