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 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.
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)