Larry Lyons’ Stamp Of Approval

Postage stamps — those relics of yesterday — are all over the news.

The World Stamp Show has returned to New York for the first time in decades, drawing 200,000 visitors to the Javits Center. (Its 8-day run ends tomorrow, Saturday June 4.)

One of the most famous stamps of all time — the Inverted Jennie biplane, number 76 on a sheet of 100 — has resurfaced, after a disappearance of 61 years.

And a Westport man is there for both events.

Larry Lyons

Larry Lyons

Larry Lyons is executive director of the Philatelic Foundation. The New York-based organization certifies the authenticity of US and foreign stamps for buyers and sellers, and maintains an enormous reference library. Lyons played a key role in ascertaining the authenticity of the long-lost Inverted Jennie.

He’s also spent many days at the Stamp Show, meeting fellow philatelists and enjoying all that the enormous show offers.

Lyons calls himself a researcher and postal historian, not a stamp collector. His special area of expertise is carrier and local posts: the private, independent mail companies that issued adhesive stamps in 1844 and 1845.

Lyons’ love of philately dates back to his childhood. His father owned a grocery store in an immigrant neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Customers gave bags full of stamps — from South America, Cuba and Japan — to young Larry.

He grew up, owned a general contracting business in New York, and moved here in 1976. He retired in 2010, then began working for the Philatelic Foundation — which he’d served as a trustee since 1999.

The Foundation uses ultra-modern equipment to detect retouching and tampering in the stamps it is asked to certify. “There’s a lot of shenanigans,” Lyons says.

100 stamps showing a biplane were printed upside down in 1918 -- and escaped the notice of inspectors.

100 stamps showing a biplane were printed upside down in 1918 — and escaped the notice of inspectors.

The Inverted Jennie block of 100 stamps — printed in 1918 — has long fascinated the public. When the lost one turned up recently — and Lyons’ foundation was asked to verify it — the FBI got involved.

But Lyons — who regularly handles million-dollar stamps, much more valuable and rare than the Inverted Jennie — was unruffled.

For one of the stamp world’s top experts, it was just another day at the (post) office.

(For a New York Times story on the Inverted Jennie stamp that quotes Larry Lyons, click here. Hat tip: Mary Condon)

5 responses to “Larry Lyons’ Stamp Of Approval

  1. Gil Ghitelman

    In addition to all his other talents, Larry is a terrific bridge player.

  2. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Great story! Reminiscent of the story of rare book thief John Charles Gilkey.

  3. Peter Barlow

    You do know that the inverted biplane stamp is now available at the post office, re-printed with the plane upside down. I saw a display of them at my post office.