“Everyone makes mistakes.” People often intone this platitude to make someone (either oneself or someone else) feel better about errors made.
And, granted, everyone does make mistakes. And, granted, such mistakes are usually no big deal and can be dismissed with an apology and the knowledge, again, that everyone makes mistakes.
But some mistakes are bigger and costlier than others.
Perhaps the most recent example of a rather costly mistake is Ohio’s license plate fiasco. Ohio recently printed a new license plate featuring at the top a Wright Brothers’ plane pulling a banner. Despite the lengthy review process, no one noticed that the plane was pictured backward, with the banner attached to the front instead of the back of the plane. Ohio printed 35,000 plates before the mistake was discovered.
No news stories that I have found thus far have quantified the cost, but it certainly won’t be minuscule. Even though the error-containing plates will be recycled and even though the plates are made using prison labor, there are still costs, such as, among others, (re)manufacturing and labor of the (re)design team, as well as loss of dignity.
Ohio is not alone in making a printing mistake. As all people in the publishing world know, it is far too easy to make mistakes. (Fortunately, despite Nebraska’s checkered license-plate-making past, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles has avoided actual printing mistakes, to my knowledge.)
Ohio, though, compounded its mistake by not capitalizing on it. Error-riddled printed items are often worth far more money than their print-perfect versions (go figure!), but Ohio declined to sell its miscues.
Philatelists know that mistakes can affect sales — but in a good way, for the stamp owners. There are many avenues for errors in the production process of postage stamps: They can be missing colors; the perforations can be aligned incorrectly; the watermark might be placed incorrectly; and overprint, design and invert errors might occur. Such stamps tend to be considered collectors’ items and are worth quite a bit of money.
Interestingly, one invert error occurred in 1918 with the image of a plane, which was accidentally printed upside down. The plane depicted was not, however, the Wright Flyer; rather, it was a Curtiss JN-4 airplane. In 2007, just one “Inverted Jenny” stamp sold for close to $1 million. And in 2013, the U.S. Postal Service decided to capitalize on its own mistake and issued copies of the Inverted Jenny.
Books, too, often end up with errors during the printing process, and at least some of them are considered rare and valuable — in particular, first editions. In 2019, for example, a mistake-filled first edition of one of the Harry Potter books was purchased at auction for approximately $90,000.
Sometimes stores make printing errors in advertisements, leading to a huge financial loss for the stores and huge financial boon for the customers. A Macy’s ad typo in 2013 featured a $1,500 necklace for $47 instead of the actual sale price of $400-some, costing the store a lot of money but rewarding customers with a windfall.
Some printing errors have only downsides. One particular printing error involving a single piece of punctuation was an extremely costly mistake, but not in a good way: In 1962, a missing hyphen in code led to a rocket explosion, depleting the coffers of the U.S. government by millions of dollars.
So, yes, everyone does make mistakes. But mistakes are not all created equal, at least in a monetary sense. Make no mistake about it.
Readers may contact Sybrant at firstname.lastname@example.org or 45092 859th Road, Bassett, NE 68714.