Well, I’m feeling well enough to get up to date on my anime and actually make a post, so here we are at week five of Gosick. Last week, we had the addition of a mysterious transfer student, and this week, we find out her motivations. It turns out she’s a fake, after a treasure stolen by a thief about eight years ago. The treasure in question is Penny Black. Supposedly, it’s a very rare stamp, and naturally the misprints go for even larger sums of money. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime! Or is it? I’ve got a bit of research for you, so hold on to your hats and let’s get on with it.
Unlike the Queen Berry in the first arc, Penny Black actually exists. In fact, it was the first stamp ever used for public postal services. Back in the old days, the person receiving a letter would pay the postage. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with some people, and so Sir Rowland Hill proposed a reform. He suggested the person sending the letter should pay for it. In 1840, he rolled implemented the stamp system, starting with the Penny Black. The stamp featured the visage of Queen Victoria on a black background, and as the name implied, it cost one penny to purchase. When you sent the letter, they would imprint a red void pattern on it to ensure people couldn’t reuse the stamps. Lo and behold, modern postage is born!
However, this design had a fatal flaw. If you’ve ever tried to put red on black yourself, then you would know stacking colors that way doesn’t work. It’s really hard to see the added color. Not only was it unnoticeable, but it also made tampering with sent stamps easier. As a result, they stopped producing the stamp one year later in 1841. They succeeded it with the Penny Red, which inverted the scheme by using red on the stamp and black for the void pattern.
Now you might think, “Wow, this stamp was only in production for such a short period of time, and it’s really old! It must be worth a lot of money!” Yes, you and everyone else might think that, if the British Antiques Roadshow is any indication. That’s where you’d be wrong. You see, they printed off a lot of stamps within that time period. I mean a LOT. Estimates peg the total production run at about 68 million stamps. They further estimate 1.5 million still exist. This is a problem. For a stamp to be worth anything, it also has to be rare. The latest rate I could find is about 3500 USD for a single, unused stamp, as was shown in Gosick. I don’t know about you, but if I had another $3500, I’d be pretty happy.
However, this is the year 2011. Gosick takes place in 1924. Between now and then, inflation has increased the value of the USD by 1175%. Every $1 then is worth $12.75 today. We can reverse this calculation to guesstimate the value in the anime. If everything remained perfectly stable, the stamp would be worth $275. You could probably assume the price would be even lower, because collectibles like this also appreciate over time. Now let’s put it into perspective. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has some data on earnings during the 1920s. I decided to figure it off the typesetter wages, to be generous. In a year’s time, a typesetter could earn $2725. A little more math tells you this stamp was worth a slightly over a month’s wages. Not quite the windfall you might have in mind.
The one thing I wish I could find is the value of a misprinted Penny Black. Absent information doesn’t mean misprints never existed. It could potentially increase the value significantly. However, consider a rare stamp that definitely went for quite a sum of money. The Treskilling Yellow is a Swedish stamp from 1855, and it has a very valuable misprint. Instead of coming out green as intended, it came out yellow. The last recorded price comes from 1996, when it sold for around 2.3 million USD. I don’t think I need to convert for you on this one. Several other stamps exist with higher returns than Penny Black. So why use it? I don’t know. Maybe it rolls off the tongue better. Or, maybe it’s just the latest in a long line of fallacies that the first stamp is of necessity the best stamp.