By Art Cashin
On this day (-1) in 1918, the U.S. Postal Service (then known as the U.S. Post Office Department) issued the first "Airmail Stamps." Of course, there was no airmail service available yet (it would not start for several days - but you'd need stamps wouldn't ya). The stamps came in 6 cent, 16 cent and 24 cent denominations.
On the second day of sale (that would be May 14 if you are an MBA), a certain Bill Robey bought a sheet of a hundred of the 24 cent types at the local post office. As he walked toward the door, he noticed that in each stamp on the sheet the plane (a biplane Curtiss "Jenny") was printed upside/down. Robey knew he had a hot item but he assumed hundreds of similar sheets would be running off the presses. (Actually only 8 other sheets had been run off before they caught the error and they destroyed every one of those - but Robey didn't know that).
He quickly sold the sheet to a philatelist (that would be a stamp collector if you are a PHD). The price was $15,000. Nice trade you think. So did Robey. But the guy he sold it to was already sitting on a $20,000 resale bid.
About 60 years later, one single stamp traded for $198,000 which would make Robey's sheet worth $19,800,000 (that would be $19.8 million if you an economist). Circumstance (or the Twilight Zone) may have added to the value of the stamps.
When actual airmail service began on May 15th, the first flight was of course a Curtiss "Jenny" bearing the same markings (JN-4H) as the Jenny in the stamp. After a lot of bravado on the takeoff, in mid-flight the pilot ran into turbulence and crash-landed. The pilot (with the mail) walked away but the first airmail plane ironically ended up in a field...you guessed it...just like the plane in Robey's sheet - upside/down.
Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.