The 1895 Chicago Counterfeit Stamps

One of the few scandals the U.S. Post Office encountered in history was the “Chicago Counterfeits” scandal. It all started in 1895 when a man named Edward Lowry responded to a Canadian newspaper ad that stated, “We have $115 U.S. two cent stamps which we cannot use here, will send them by express C.O.D. Privilege of examination for $100.”

Does something about that sound illegal to you? You wouldn’t be wrong.

Mr. Lowry contacted the Postal Inspector James Stuart with an inquiry about buying the current 2c stamps at less than their 2c value, the possibility as suggested by the advertisement.

Of course, Stuart found this suspicious and investigated the issue. A Secret Service agent named Captain Thomas Porter joined Stuart’s investigation. As it turns out, many other people had also seen the ad and ordered the stamps – which Porter and Stuart had to confiscate as a consequence.

A rogue printing operation was in the works. Porter discovered a woman named Mrs. Lacy and her daughter Tinsa McMillan who had a printing production set up in their apartment.

Guess what they found? Stacks of gummed paper, a perforation machine, a copying camera, and all the other possible tools you could need for producing (fake) stamps.

Finally they arrested Tinsa McMillan – the brains behind the whole operation. She had set up the stamp-copying production illegally to make a profit. Ms. McMillan was sentenced to 1.5 years in a reformatory.

This whole scandal was why the Post Office added watermarks to stamps, a story we will continue in another article.

All About 3c Postmaster Provisional Stamps

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.

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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 leftNashville_Provisional_1861) 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.

San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition

The Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915 was a sight to behold. It took three years to build what turned out to be one of the most impressive expositions in America.

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You can get this postcard and the ones below at this link.

The official reason for the exposition was the newly finished Panama Canal, but many saw the event as the showcasing of the recovery of San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906. The earthquake set the city back significantly in a financial sense, and dimmed the city’s optimism for growth. But the exposition changed all that by bringing in millions of visitors and once again establishing San Francisco as a prominent city in the U.S.

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Twenty-four countries participated in the expo. The Tower of Jewels stood as the centerpiece of the event. Fake glass jewels covered all 435 feet of the tower, causing the tower to sparkle in the sunlight and shine under spotlights at night. In front of the tower stood the “Fountain of Energy”, right next to the Palace of Horticulture and the Festival Hall. Many other “Palaces” and “Halls” featured areas of growth in recent years, like transportation and agriculture. The Palace of Fine Arts particularly shone in its showcase, and it was the only building to be kept from the exposition. The building slowly fell into disrepair over the years, but it was renovated in the 1960’s and can still be visited today.

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The U.S. Post Office issued a set of four stamps in honor of the exposition, including a profile of Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the Pedro Miguel Locks of the Panama Canal, the Golden Gate Bridge, and San Francisco Bay.

The U.S. Mint also issued commemorative half dollar and gold coins.

Overall, the exposition was a huge success, pulling in over 18 million visitors over the event’s 10 months in session. And if you want to experience a piece of the glory of the fair, you can still visit the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

You can find more Pan-Pacific postcards at this link!

The Invention of Airmail that Swept the Nation

Before airmail was invented, shipping methods were much slower. (Homing pigeons had been used centuries before, but pigeons, to say the least, are not the most sophisticated form of transport.)

But some destinations were inaccessible unless accessed by airplane.

The story of the invention of the airplane is in itself a wonderful tale, but airmail enters the story through the first scheduled airmail service in the UK between North London and Berkshire in 1911. The event was part of the celebration of King George V’s coronation. This first service took 16 flights, carrying 35 bags of mail in total. It stopped only about a month after it started due to bad weather.

But the invention of the airplane was too useful to ignore. While the U.S. government was slow to adopt the incredible invention of the airplane, the U.S. Post Office expressed interest in the airplane early on. They tested a mail flight between Garden City and Mineola, NY. He dropped mail from the plane to the ground where the postmaster picked it up.

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The famous Jenny airplane.

The Post Office continued to conduct unofficial flights within different states between 1911 and 1912.

The first regular airmail system in the United States started in May 1918 with a route that ran between Washington, D.C. And New York City.

This is also where the famous Inverted Jenny stamp comes into play. Many of the original planes used to transport mail were Jenny training planes from the Army. The Jenny stamp was issued in 1918 in honor of the first airmail service – but things didn’t quite go as planned. You can read more here.

Airmail postage cost 24 cents.

Airmail continued to expand and grow in the U.S., and planes grew safer as time went on.

Of course, airmail was quite popular with stamp collectors. Philatelists often went out of their way to find the first airmail flights to send letters and collect the cancels from such flights.