The 3c Postmaster Provisionals of 1861 have secured their place in history by being a part of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
At the time the United States Post Office and the Confederate Post Office found themselves in an awkward situation, where various laws created a confusing Post Office relationship between the U.S. government and the Confederacy. For a while, the Confederate Post Office simply paid their dues to the U.S. Post Office until they could gain control over their own mail system.
So to decrease the complication of the situation, the Southern Post Offices created their own provisionals, stamps issued for temporary purposes in local areas. Postmasters created their own adhesive stamps with their own elaborate designs. The stamps usually had the postmaster’s name, the town, and the postage rate. But some stamps also had very simple designs, like a hand stamped “Paid” or even a handwritten price on a small piece of paper. Other 3c stamps were adhesive.
Some postmasters even printed a value on the envelopes themselves, so that the envelope was ready-made to mail with Confederate rates.
Most of these provisional stamps are quite rare. Only the 3c Nashville (as seen to the left) is less rare; it was printed but never actually issued.
These small pieces of history can still be found to this day, though it might be difficult to search them out.
Between 1975 and 1981, the freedoms of the United States were honored with the Americana Stamp Series. The stamps contain images from Colonial America; they feature phrases like “Freedom to speak out” with a podium and “A public that reads” with a pile of books. The images on the stamps show quaint and charming pieces of Americana.
The United States Postal Service hired the private firm Kramer, Miller, Lomden and Glassman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to design the art. The series came in twenty stamps in sheets and twelve in coils, plus one stamp made for a booklet.
This was the first U.S. stamp series with no male being featured; two female figures appear, though they represent allegorical characters rather than real women in history. Another separation of this series from other series was its lack of any featured President.
The stamps had five themes:
The Roots of Democracy
Rights and Freedoms of the American People
Symbols of America
Pioneer America, and
This series produced the famous CIA Invert error (Scott 1610c), a postage stamp error on a one dollar stamp in the “America’s Light” theme. One sheet of 100 stamps was printed with the black inverted, so that the candle and text are positioned opposite of the colored flame.
The CIA Invert Error.
A CIA employee bought a sheet of the error stamps, and other interested CIA employees saved one stamp each. The remaining stamps were sold to a stamp collector. The U.S. government tried to buy back the errors, but some employees refused to give them back. Rumor says these employees were fired!
Unfortunately the Americana Stamp Series was not terribly successful, and it was ended earlier than expected.
You can see stamps from the series here. Which stamp is your favorite?
Ever wondered what the rarest stamp in the U.S. is?
The “Z Grill” is a 1 cent stamp featuring Benjamin Franklin of which only two are known to exist. The Z Grill is considered one of the rarest United States stamps, along with the 15 cent Lincoln Z Grill and the 10 cent Washington Z Grill.
What is a grill, exactly? In philately, a grill consists of an embossed pattern indented in the stamp in order to prevent postage stamp reuse. The ink of the cancel seeps into the indentation, making it more difficult to wash off the cancellation. The specific “Z” pattern put horizontal ridges into the stamp, rather than the usual vertical ridges. The grill process was the standard for postage stamps in the 1860’s and 1870’s.
Only two known 1868 Benjamin Franklin stamps with the Z Grill exist, making them extremely rare. Likely hundreds of thousands of 1 cent Benjamin Franklin stamps were printed, but only two with a Z Grill survived. Both have cancellation marks.
Where are these rare stamps now? The New York Public Library owns one as part of their Benjamin Miller Collection, a collection of rare stamps donated in 1925 by philatelist Benjamin Kurtz Miller.
The other Z Grill rests in a private collection.
In 1998, one Z Grill sold for $935,000 to Mystic Stamp Company. Later, the stamp was traded to Bill Gross for a block of four Inverted Jenny stamps worth $3 million. As a result, Gross became the only owner of a complete collection of American 19th century stamps.
They’re the crème de la crème of philatelists; you have to be pretty acclaimed to be on this list.
The “Roll of Distinguished Philatelists” has only the best stamp collectors in the world.
The Philatelic Congress of Great Britain created the list in 1921. The Congress still meets once a year, each time in a different location.
How does one get on this distinguished list? You must help develop the area of philately in some way, whether through research, expertise, or otherwise. The Congress will judge nominations each year.
Those elected onto the roll get to sign one of the three pieces of parchment with other members’ signatures. That’s right – parchment. It can’t get much more traditional than that.
King George V, a famous philatelist, the first to sign the roll.
So how did the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists get started, anyway? In 1919, a man named Percy C. Bishop suggested an order to honor the best of the best in philately. Bishop was at the time a member of the London Stamp Club, but he wanted to create an order that exceeded any such club in existence. The President of the London Stamp Club proposed Bishop’s idea to a local stamp paper, and in 1920, a jury published twenty-five names for membership of the order. The order still hadn’t achieved official status, however; but in 1921 the Roll of Distinguished Philatelists was finally created. It received the signature of King George V, also a famous philatelist. He signed the official parchment, taking the place of number one on the list, and thirty-nine more philatelists signed the parchment.
That was just the beginning. Each year after that, excluding the war years between 1940-1946, the Congress meets to vote on further signatures to add to the roll.
You can learn more about the roll on the Association of British Philatelic Societies website. (Link)
The Basel Dove is one of the rarest stamps in the world.
Before 1848, Switzerland had 26 “cantons”, or member states, which were their own fully sovereign states. Basel was the last of the Cantons to make its own stamp.
In 1843, Basel’s Postmaster General Johannes Bernoulli proposed a stamp for the city.
A prominent architect named Melchior Berri stepped up to design the stamp. Berri influenced much of Swiss architecture in the 19th century and designed decorative letterboxes for Basel, including some with the same dove as is on the stamp. His stamp featured a white dove carrying a letter over red and green. The Basel Coat of Arms is shown at the top. The Dove was the first tri-colored stamp ever made.
It took two years, but finally in 1845 Basel issued the stamp, worth 2 ½ Rappen. The stamps were sold to the public in sheets of 40 or half sheets of 20.
But the stamp didn’t last long; stamps from single Swiss Cantons had previously failed to catch people’s attention, and the Basel Dove was no different. It was withdrawn from print in 1848, and Federal stamps became available in 1850.
The number of Basel Dove stamps that have been printed is up for debate. One 1930s article claimed that about 20,000 had been printed, while a more recent report suggested upwards of 40,000, judging by the archived information from the Basel Postal Administration.
The last Basel Dove stamps can be found on covers from as late as 1851.
Today, a Basel Dove stamp has an estimated value of $18,000.
A square is not the only shape that stamps take.
Triangle stamps also exist – and the first triangle stamps came from the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
The 1853 stamps marked the first triangular stamps in issue. Messrs Perkins, Bacon & Co in London, famous book, stamp, and banknote printers, printed them. Engraver William Humphrys cut their original die.
The 4d Cape Triangular
The stamps took this unique shape so that Post Office workers could recognize stamps from the Cape. Anyone who was illiterate could also still recognize them.
The one penny stamps were colored in red and the four pence stamps in blue, and the image on the stamps featured a woman sitting on an anchor on a rock to represent the Cape.
In 1864 the design was replaced with the figure of Hope sitting with a ram and vines. Slight changes continued to be made to the image, but the Hope designs continued in issues until 1898.
The Cape of Good Hope.
Later, in 1900, a 1d stamp showed Table Mountain and the Arms of the Colony. Finally, the last issue of the stamp between 1902 and 1904 showed King Edward VII.
Many triangle stamps have come after these, probably inspired by these notable first issues. Today, the estimated value of an original issue Cape of Good Hope stamp is not up to the value of some of the stamps we’ve written about, but still holds the hefty value of about $40,000.
Hawaiian Missionaries are some of the rarest stamps in the world.
We’ve written about rare stamps before, but the Hawaiian Missionaries have a particularly intriguing past.
These were the first postage stamps of the Kingdom of Hawaii, issued 1851.
Why are they called “Missionaries”, you ask? These stamps were usually found on the letters of missionaries working in Hawaii, hence the name. Only a small number of the stamps have survived to this day.
In 1920, new Missionaries showed up on the market from someone named Charles Shattuck, who said that his mother had connected with a missionary family in Hawaii. The stamps were sold to a dealer for $65,000. But in 1922 a court case deemed the stamps as forgeries. Since then, numerous studies have been done on the stamps, but no one has quite agreed on whether they’re real or not. Someone even published a book in 2006 titled The Investigation of the Grinnell Hawaiian Missionaries by the Expert Committee of the Royal Philatelic Society London. If you’re feeling kept in suspense on the investigation’s results, know that the Society has declared the stamps as counterfeit — though some may still disagree.
One of the most peculiar tales surrounding the stamp seems like something pulled straight from a crime novel. A wealthy man named Gaston Leroux was found murdered in his home in Paris, and the police could think of no motive – until they found a 2-cent blue Hawaiian Missionary missing from his collection. The police contacted every stamp shop, but no luck; they then contacted Leroux’s friends and found that one, Hector Giroux, was a stamp collector who happened to own a collection of Hawaiian stamps, including the 2-cent blue. Giroux confessed to offering the buy the stamp from Leroux, and when he was refused, killed Leroux in a fit of rage. Giroux was hanged for the crime — a crime committed all for a single stamp.