When the hammer went down on May 31st, committing the buyer to $1.3 million plus whatever taxes apply for the Inverted Jenny position 58, “Alicia” looked satisfied but not particularly excited as she lay her paddle across her lap. She was merely an anonymous agent acting for an anonymous buyer in an anonymous location. When the World Stamp Show closed, the Inverted Jenny rated highest for its looks and condition might be resold in a few days, or it could vanish forever into a high-security location known as a freeport.
Before the Second World War, when the 4th Marquess of Bute stashed position 63 in London’s Chancery Lane Safe Deposit Company vaults, he availed himself of state-of-the-art safe-keeping. Not unlike the bank safe deposit boxes in which many Jennys spend most of their time, Chancery Lane offered an acre of underground storage safe from fire and burglary. But like a modern freeport, Chancery Lane also provided vaults large enough to store paintings and furniture. The facility even provided “comfortable waiting, reading, and writing rooms,” according to the Tatler in 1902. Chancery Lane, in fact, was an innovator in private, secure Aladdin’s caves.
Located near Lincoln’s Inn and the Royal Courts of Justice, the depository lay in Luftwaffe bomber sights during the Blitz, and the building above was obliterated during the raids of September 23–24, 1940. The super-thick steel and concrete walls of the depository suffered no damage from the bombs, but the vaults flooded to three feet deep from the efforts of the fire brigade.
Strangely enough, an exceedingly valuable object was later salvaged from the rubble in the street by a laborer, or so he claimed. How the tiny, ornate gold and blue enamel triptych that once belonged to Mary Queen of Scots left a secure vault and wound up being sold to a junk dealer for fifteen shillings will never be known, though it doesn’t speak to the invulnerability of its storage facility. Luckily, Jenny position 63 just got wet.
Modern freeports, however, are to Chancery Lane as owning an Airbus ACJ319 corporate jet is to flying coach. In fact an ACJ319 can bypass customs and sidle up to the freeport loading bay at the Luxembourg or Singapore airport to offload pallets of treasure chests, thus technically keeping the goods in transit and avoiding export taxes. Furthermore, unlike luxury safe depositories of old, today’s freeports offer climate control, vibration detection, biometric authentication, fire fighting systems that suck oxygen, and enough structural integrity to secure up to 200 metric tons of gold for their clients. They also provide art conservators and rooms where the ultra-rich can trade loot without paying taxes.
For all their size and plain exteriors, warehouse is not the apt term here. The Geneva freeport alone—established in 1888, around the same time as Chancery Lane—which has or nearly has reached capacity, is said to hold $100 billion in art, not counting Lamborghinis, antiquities, gold, and wine. There are dozens in other countries and more going up to handle the overflow. One little postage stamp should easily find a bed.
The Marquess of Bute’s now-gumless but surprisingly unscathed Jenny position 63 last sold for $79,500 in 1996. Twenty years later, its colleague from the row above on the sheet went for sixteen times that amount. Will position 58 disappear into a cushy hidey-hole for years and years, or will its owner decide to unload it right away? Siegel sold position 58 for $192,500 in 1998, $577,500 in 2005, and here it went again, eleven years later.
Let it be said that we last saw position 58 on June 1, 2016, the day after Anonymous bought it. It was propped up in its transparent envelope, alone on a crystal mount resting on a podium inside a locked case in front of the Siegel Auction Galleries booth in New York's Jacob Javits Center.
Amick, George (1986). The Inverted Jenny: Mystery, Money, Mania. Amos Press Inc.
"Freeports: Uber-warehouses for the ultra-rich." The Economist, November 23, 2013.
Inverted Jenny. The Inverted Jenny website (www.invertedjenny.com), Siegel Auction Galleries, Inc. Web. 17 July 2016.
O'Connell, Brian (2013). John Hunt: the Man, The Medievalist, The Connoisseur. O'Brien Press
"The most Valuable Spot in all London." Tatler magazine, December 4, 1902 (p. 464).