The Third Leader: Happy mistake

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Forgive me, but it seems timely to re-examine the reputation of the error, now that four stamps have fetched $2.79m at auction in New York because the aeroplanes on them are printed upside down.

Let's face it, errors have never been popular. And yet, as with those 1918 Inverted Jennies, they're not always such a bad thing, even if the US postal authorities didn't think so at the time.

Would the Perpendicular Tower of Pisa have brought in so many coach parties? How do you think we came by cheese? (Jolting camel journey ruins milk, m'lud.) Penicillin (mould getting into the bacteria)? Pacemaker (wrong resistor creates pulse)? Crisps (chef angry at soggy chip complaints)?

Might I submit, too: Leonardo, Boccaccio, Erasmus, Strindberg and Marilyn Monroe: how much poorer the world would have been without such bastards, usually held to have been conceived in or by error!

Well, yes, I might be a little parti pris, as we in the inky trade do have a reputation in this area; but consider what feelings of superiority we thereby confer on you, the reader; and, often, day-brightening amusement (my own favourite, in a previous employer's organ, was the addition of a penultimate "n" to the first name of the Kray twins' mother, Violet).

So, please, let's hear it for the error, that constant reminder of the frailty of our predicament, never better demonstrated than by the last words of Major General John Sedgwick during the American Civil War: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist ..." Actually, that should have been $2.97m, I think.

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