The World’s Most Expensive Error Stamps

Last month the stamp world rewrote some record books.

The sale of the famous Z Grill stamp (an 1868 blue Benjamin Franklin 1c stamp with Z Grill) set a $4.4 million new top mark for a single US stamp.

But, it left six items in the list of the most expensive ever philatelic items (not all are single stamps).

And, though the Z Grill was a short lived experiment in stamp security it doesn’t classify as an error.

So, as we install the Z Grill at number 7 in the list of most expensive ever stamps here are three items of comparative value that owe their rarity to mistakes.

3 - The Whole Country is Red, China, 1968

The Whole Country is Red

Spot the mistake? It's a big geopolitical blunder.

We’ve written at length about this stamp here.

A short version of the story is that this stamp was issued at the height of the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China.

Unfortunately, a design decision by artist Wan Wei Sheng had the effect of making Taiwan look like it had declared independence from the otherwise red national territory.

A few phone calls later, the whole issue was trashed after a reported six sales.

Orders went out to destroy the unsold stamps.

That’s how you make a rarity.

A large format version of the stamp became the most valuable of a number that have been sold in 2023 when it achieved $2 million at auction in Beijing in November 2018.

2 - 500 Mon Inverted Centre Japan 1871

500 mon inverted centre Japan 1871

The central panel here is inverted. 

The stamp world loves a mistake.

If you don’t read pictogram languages like Japanese this one can be hard to spot, but the value here (mon preceded the yen as the currency of Japan) is written upside down.

The stamp issue is already highly prized. It’s Japan’s first issue, called the Ryumon, and put out in four variants for different values.

The design is smashing. Intricate, interesting and elegant.

But, one sheet of this stamp was issued with an inverted central plate.

This is the only known survivor.

It had been out in the world until 1953 when it was found in the collection of J C Linsley.

He never quite believed it was definitely for real, and it was only authenticated properly when his son inherited the collection and had it properly assessed.

In June 2023 it comprehensively trashed estimates and its catalogue value of $175,000 when it sold at auction for $5.8 million.

1 - Block of four Inverted Jenny, US 1918

POSITION 87  BLOCK 87-88/97-98 inverted Jenny

An eye-catching and attractive error.

Inverted Jennys are up there with Penny Blacks as the best-known stamps in the world.

I suspect if you asked the average American to name a rare stamp those that felt able to give an answer would come up with the Jenny.

It’s even been featured on the Simpsons.

It’s hard to quantify why one stamp should be more valuable than another sometimes.

I’m pretty sure that the long-lasting appeal of the Jenny isn’t just down to its rarity. There are rarer stamps that don’t raise these prices. The image has a lot to do with it.

It’s an upside down plane!


And it has a great story.

A new issue for the US’s new airmail service, a collector called William T Robey had heard the stamp would be made with a two-stage printing process and told friends there could be an error.

Not only was he right, he was in the right place to buy a sheet of the stamps with the error (100 of them) and when he informed the authorities what he’d done they withdrew the rest of the issue.

The Jennys have all been tracked since then.

They always make very high prices.

And blocks more than singles.

So we can watch the sales record of this group of four go: $15,000 (1918), $20,000 (1918), $27,000 (1944), $18,250 (1954), $110,000 (1968), $1,100,000 (1989), $2,970,000 (2005), $4,860,000 (2021).

Where will it go next?

I think higher.

Buy rare error stamps now

We sell rare and valuable postage stamps, including exciting error stamps.

You can see some of what we have on offer here.

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