The following is an excerpt from the article. Read the full version of the article online here.
A Gallery of Pre-1922 U.S. Stamps Issued with Designated First Day of Sale
[Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part article exploring the pre-history of first day of issue and first day cover collecting (as we understand it in the modern sense). Part 1 appeared in the November 2022 issue of The American Philatelist.] You can also read Part 1 here.
Cover image by Portland Hotel Co.; Charles E. Leland - Original from the University of Maryland Digital Collections, National Trust Library Historic Postcard Collection
In December of 1921, the Philatelic Sales Agency (PSA) was created for the purpose of informing stamp collectors about new issues, especially specific release dates, cities, and public first day ceremonies. For all of the U.S. stamps issued after this date, dealers had significant forewarning and preparation time to make first day covers in high enough quantities to match collectors’ demand. Soon after, printed cachets became common, and modern first day cover collecting was born. Now, a little more than 100 years after the birth of this collecting area, we see how our philatelic forebears did things in “the before times.”
In Part 1 of “How the Earliest Collectors Sought Out First Days,” we explored the philatelic history of collecting earliest use and designated first day of issue covers before the Philatelic Sales Agency’s creation. Actual designated first days for stamp issues were few and far between, and often covers can be found with earlier uses. Part 1 also introduced some of the “greats” of early philately who lived in Washington, D.C. and collected first day covers themselves.
In Part 2, we present a gallery of actual uses on cover for most pre-1921 stamps with designated first day dates. The list, which comes courtesy of Ed Siskin, is organized chronologically and by the purpose of the new postage stamp issue: for a new stamp service; for the reduction of the first-class rate; and commemorative stamps.
New Stamp Services
On March 3, 1847, Congress authorized the first United States general adhesive postage stamps. The act specified that Postmaster General Cave Johnson “be authorized to prepare postage stamps, which when attached to any letter or packet, shall be evidence of the payment of postage …”
Although the use of these stamps was optional, it was hoped that their availability and convenience would encourage the public to use them.
The contract for engraving and printing of these stamps was awarded to Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson of New York City.
The new 5- and 10-cent stamps were issued on July 1, 1847. They remained valid for postage after June 30, 1851, when they were demonetized. The new stamps were not valid for postage until July 1, 1851.
New York City was the first city to receive the stamps and place them on sale. A total of 20,000 5-cent stamps and 60,000 10-cent stamps were sent on July 1 to New York. The New York Herald newspaper of July 2, 1847 printed that the stamps that were received were placed on sale on July 1.
A report by Robert H. Morris, postmaster of New York City, read, “Prepaid stamps have been received from the Post Office Department, of the denominations of five and ten cents. They will be sold only at the Post Office, by Mr. Monson, the cashier, at his office, between the hours of 9 o’clock A.M. and 4 o’clock P.M.”
Although the stamps were available for sale, it is not clear that any were sold.
Third Assistant Postmaster General John Marron delivered stamps to the following cities during the first month of their availability: Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C. (two shipments); Baltimore (two shipments); Worcester, Massachusetts; Providence, Rhode Island; Richmond, Virginia; Cumberland, Maryland; and Wilmington, Delaware.
Official Stamps – July 1, 1873
In 1873, The Committee on Post Offices in the 42nd Congress repealed the franking privileges for members of Congress or heads of government offices, resulting in a need for Official stamps, thereby showing evidence of prepayment of postage.
Postmasters were supplied, effective July 1, 1873, free of charge, Official stamps to be used only for business of a public nature. A strict account was kept by the department, and a record of the number of stamps received and used also kept on hand, in order that the amount of mail matter passing through the mails free could be readily ascertained.
All stamps were marked “Official Stamp” and contained a large numeral from 1 cent to $20, which represented the value of the postage for the package to which they were affixed.
The new stamps were the same size as the regular issue stamps used at the time, but each department had a different color. Stamps from one department could not be used by another department.
The official Post Office Department announcement was dated May 15, 1873, and was issued by the Post Office Department, Office of The Third Assistant Postmaster General, Division of Postage Stamps, Stamped Envelopes, and Post Cards as follows: “The franking privilege having been abolished, to take effect on the first day of July 1873, the Postmaster General is required by law to provide postage stamps or stamped envelopes of special design for each of the several Executive Departments of the Government, for the pre-payment of postage on official matter passing through the mails.”
Requisitions by various government departments commenced on May 24. More than 13 million stamps were issued to various departments in advance of July 1, the designated first day for the stamps. Here is a list of departments, the designated color of the stamps for their department and the number of Official stamps they received:
The Executive (carmine) 4,650
State Department (green) 60,495
Treasury Department (velvet brown) 6,317,500
War Department (cochineal red) 440,500
Navy Department (blue) 160,830
Post Office Department (black) 5,510,610
Interior Department (vermillion) 970,475
Department of Justice (purple) 65,400
Department of Agriculture (straw color) 135,000
These distribution totals might provide an indication of comparative scarcity. Assuming that even a small percentage of these stamps were postmarked on July 1, 1873, most have not survived.
Figure 14. A cover with a designated first day of July 1 shows an international usage of the 3-cent Treasury Department Official stamp (Scott O74) tied by a quartered cork cancellation.
A cover with a designated first day of July 1 (Figure 14) shows an international usage of the 3-cent Treasury Department Official stamp tied by a quartered cork cancellation. A quick review of the stamp printing totals shown indicate that it was from the most widely issued of the departmental Official stamps.
Special Delivery Stamp – October 1, 1885
The Special Delivery service was initially advocated in 1883 by First Assistant Postmaster General Frank Hatton. This proposed service for speedy delivery of letters of importance was authorized by the Act of Congress of March 5, 1885.
The Postal Bulletin of September 17, 1885, announced that on October 1, 1885, the new Special Delivery service would begin and a new stamp would be issued for that purpose.
Special Delivery service was limited to offices that had free delivery or served only towns with a population of at least 4,000. This strict definition meant that only 535 towns qualified for stamp distribution, but it is doubtful that all received the stamps prior to October 1.
Figure 16. A cover franked with the new Special Delivery stamp (Scott E1) on October 1, 1885, the official first day of the new service. A manuscript notation by Jacob Rich reads “Received 12.15 Oct 1, 1885, J.M. Rich.”
Joseph S. Rich, who became the first president of the Collectors Club in New York in 1896, addressed a cover (Figure 16) to his brother, Jacob, at the family home on West 38th Street in New York City on the first day of Special Delivery service. The cover is postmarked on the reverse at noon at Station P (Bowling Green) in lower Manhattan.
Registration Stamp – December 1, 1911
A new, distinctive stamp was issued to be used solely on Registered mail. The Postal Bulletin of December 7, 1911, presents a description dated November 25 of this new postage stamp.
In 1971, Robert L. Markovits wrote an article in the Collectors Club Philatelist titled “The 10c Registry Stamp of 1911.” Markovits wrote, “On Friday, December 1, 1911, the United States Post Office experimented by placing on sale a distinctive postage stamp intended solely for the use on registered mail, a ten-cent light blue stamp picturing an eagle.”
Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock did not, however, prohibit the use of regular U.S. postage stamps to prepay the registered mail fee. This failure, in some ways, may have prevented Hitchcock’s idea from having its intended effect, which was to enable postal clerks to easily identify registered mail.
Markovits continued, “Hitchcock’s failure to require the exclusive use of the stamp probably was the most important reason why the idea was abandoned.”
The initial distribution of the stamp was slow. Washington, D.C. placed the stamps on sale late in the afternoon on December 1 and few were sold.
Figure 17. This philatelist-created cover sent on the first official day of Registered mail went from dealer Percy McGraw Mann to collector Joseph A. Steinmetz.
Shown (Figure 17) is a philatelically inspired cover, mailed from Percy McGraw Mann, a Philadelphia dealer, who addressed this cover to one of his customers, the noted collector Joseph A. Steinmetz.
Pan-American Exposition – May 1, 1901
The annual report of Third Assistant Postmaster General Edwin C. Madden announced and described these stamps: “A special series of stamps to commemorate the (Pan American) exposition, which owing to its magnitude and international character, is fairly entitled to this mark of recognition by the Post Office Department. The new stamps will be furnished to all postmasters upon their requisitions, and the first issue will be made at the time the exposition is inaugurated, May 1, 1901, the stamps being withdrawn from sale at the close of the exposition, October 31.”
On February 26, Madden issued instructions to postmasters that six stamp values would be ready for issue to postmasters about April 25, for sale to the public on May 1, 1901, opening day of the Pan-American Exposition.
The stamps were not intended to be sold in place of ordinary stamps but sold only when requested by first- and second-class post offices.
Figure 22. This cover, sent by Registered mail, carries a complete set of the six Pan American stamps (Scott 294-299) and is postmarked on May 1, 1901, the stamps’ designated first day of use.
Shown (Figure 22) is a complete set of six values on a single registered cover postmarked on May 1, 1901, the designated first day. The cover is to Henry A. Mears, and was prepared by Charles H. Stone, an 82-year-old Civil War veteran.
The six stamps publicized the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York. These first commemoratives of the 20th century were also the first bi-colored postage stamps printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the first U.S. bicolors since 1869.
The stamps – in denominations of 1, 2, 4, 8 and 10 cents – are based on photographs and depict modes of modern transportation.
The sale of stamps to collectors began to receive special attention when the Post Office Department’s Philatelic Sales Agency began its activities 100 years ago. Parts 1 and 2 of this article presented some of the frustrating experiences that collectors experienced in obtaining newly issued U.S. stamps.
In late 1921, a memo from the Superintendent, Division of Finance, William E. Buffington, acknowledged that the number of stamp collectors (estimated from 20,000 to 50,000) and the revenue of their stamp purchases should be given better service.
On November 25, 1921, Acting Postmaster General Hurbert Work implemented Order Number 6747, stating that effective December 1, 1921, Percy W. Gibbon became the first philatelic agent when the Philatelic Sales Agency opened on that day.
The PSA’s location was in Room 217 of the former City Post Office Building at Massachusetts Avenue and North Capital Street, close to Union Station. Today it is the location of the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum.
Acknowledgments: A special thanks to Lewis Kaufman and Edward J. Siskin.
References and resources for Part 2 are listed at the end of Part 1, November 2022.
Henry B. Scheuer started collecting United States first day covers in 1959 and began acquiring older material in 1965. Over the last 45 years, he has written many articles, addressed numerous philatelic groups, and has been involved in various aspects of creating and collecting covers. Henry is a 25-year member of the American Philatelic Society and has been a member of the Collectors Club, the United States Stamp Society, and the American First Day Cover Society for many years.