The CIA Invert by Dave Cleaver
The $1 colonial rushlight holder stamp was first issued on 2nd July 1979 as part of the Americana series produced by the USPS. However, it took another seven years for the discovery of the only known pane of 100 inverted stamps to come to light. Because these stamps were printed in sheets of four panes of 100, it was supposed there must have been three more panes – but none was ever found.
In the spring of 1986, it emerged that a CIA employee had been sent to buy stamps from the Post Office in McLean, Virginia, for the local CIA office’s admin purposes. The purchase included a pane of 95 $1 colonial rushlight holder stamps (five had already been sold individually). Unnoticed by the purchaser, and very probably also unnoticed by those who purchased the first five, these were in fact invert errors.
However, it was not until several days later, when another CIA employee needed a $1 stamp, that the purchaser first noticed that the flames were inverted relative to the candle holder and lettering. Realising that he had accidentally stumbled on a true rarity, with an enormous potential value, he confided in eight colleagues. After considering a range of possibilities the group of nine employees decided to buy another sheet of stamps to replace the pane of errors. They decided to keep one stamp each and sell the remainder of the sheet for $25,000 to a New Jersey stamp dealer, Jacques C. Schiff, Jr. The story that Schiff put about was that the stamps had been discovered by a business in northern Virginia, and that the original owner wanted to remain anonymous.
This might have been where the story ended, except that 50 of the stamps were later sold to a group of individuals, which included the head of the Mystic Stamp operation of the Littleton Coin Company, Donald Sundman. (The Mystic Stamp Company had been acquired by Littleton in 1974.) Sundman naturally wanted to know where these rare stamps had come from, and, via a Freedom of Information Act request to the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing, obtained a report, from which he was able to piece together the true story. Unsurprisingly, this fast became national news and, almost immediately, the CIA launched its own internal investigation, ultimately demanding that each of the nine employees return their copies of the stamp, or face being sacked from their jobs, fines, or possibly time in prison. Five employees returned their stamps, one claimed to have lost their copy, and three employees resigned. All were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
When discussed, the stamp is usually shown with the orange and yellow imprint at the top. Also, no-one ever seems to mention that even though the coloured imprint is upside down, the print is also shifted to the left.
Based on text from