Revenue stamp collectors have long pursued precanceled stamps often produced by companies that marketed consumer products, including matches, medicinal products, canned goods, perfumes, chewing gum, and playing cards. A popular era of these precancels is the Spanish-American War era, which saw both the Battleship proprietary stamps (Scott RB20-32) and a number of private die stamps (Scott RS278-306). One of the richer areas for collectors is for the Emerson Drug Company of Baltimore.
The Emerson Drug Company was established in 1891 for the manufacture of Bromo-Seltzer, a granular effervescent salt that had been patented two years earlier by Isaac Edward Emerson. The formula for Bromo-Seltzer in 1898 consisted of acetanilid, tartaric acid, sodium bicarbonate, potassium bromide, and sugar. American chemist Harvey Wiley’s crusade for the eventual Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 opposed Bromo-Seltzer specifically. Acetanilid was the offending ingredient, with the toxic side effect of interfering with the function of hemoglobin in the blood. Acetanilid was replaced and Bromo-Seltzer remained a major seller in the over-the-counter market through much of the 20th century.
Emerson Drug Company was one of the companies that used private die proprietary stamps during the Spanish-American War era (Scott RS280-283). Prior to the arrival of their private die proprietary stamps in November 1900, Emerson made extensive use of the Battleship proprietary stamps with both handstamp and printed cancellations. For information on the handstamp cancels, please refer to Morton Dean Joyce’s Proprietary Revenues of 1898: Precanceled Varieties.
The earliest of the printed cancels was a two-line cancel with the first line using the initials of the company, “E.D. Co.” This cancel came into use in August 1899 and was used until early November 1899 (Figure 1). This first type of printed cancel was superseded by a three-line printed cancel with the company name spelled out in the first two lines: “Emerson” in the first line and “DRUG CO.” in the second line (Figure 2). This three-line cancel remained in use off and on until the tax expired on June 30, 1901.
Figure 1. The two-line printed cancel used by the Emerson Drug Company.
Figure 2. The three-line printed cancel used by the Emerson Drug Company, which was used on the Battleship proprietary stamps beginning in early November 1899.
When the company received its private die proprietary stamps at the beginning of November 1900, these were put into use almost immediately. This private die stamp has been described as one of the most beautifully executed designs by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. With slight magnifica-tion, one can read all the words on the label of the Bromo-Seltzer bottle that is the center of the design. Emerson prepared four denominations for use. The ¼-cent denomination was used on Bromo-Seltzer retailing for 10 cents; the 5/8-cent for bottles retailing at 25 cents; the 1¼-cent for bottles retailing at 50 cents; and the 2½-cent for bottles retailing for $1 (Figure 3). The sheet size of the Emerson private die stamps was 200 (20 per row in 10 rows).
Figure 3. The four denominations of private die stamps used by Emerson Drug Company early in November 1900.
Unlike many other users of private die stamps, Emerson canceled its stamps with a shipping date. The dates of shipment of Bromo-Seltzer were identified by a calendar code that started on January 1, 1897, long before the proprietary tax and the private die stamps. The code consisted of a nu-meral, a letter, and another numeral in that order. The first numeral of the code represents the day of the week, with 1 for Monday, 2 for Tuesday, up to 6 for Saturday (the sixth day of the customary work week in the Spanish-American War era). The letter represents one of the weeks of a half-year period, with A as the first week and Z as the 26th. The last numeral represents each of the eight half-year periods in a four-year cycle (1897-1900, then 1901-1904), with 1 for January to June 1897, continuing through 8 for July to December 1900, and beginning back at 1 for January to June 1901.
The earliest recorded date of the private die stamps is the 5/8-cent denomination on Thursday, November 8, 1900, with the shipping code 4S8 (Figure 4).
Figure 4. The use of the private die stamps commenced with the 5/8-cent stamp on November 8, 1900, with shipping code 4S8. Figure 5. Return to the use of precanceled Battleship proprietary stamps.
As late as Saturday, January 19, 1901, we still see three denominations in use with shipping code 6C1. But the company began running out of the first shipment of the private die stamps on Monday, January 21, 1901. In Figure 5 we see that they still had the ¼-cent denomination (shipping code 1D1), but had reverted to the Battleship general proprietary stamps on the 2½-cent denomination. Although the use of the ¼-cent denomination of the private die stamps would be continued in use until February 11, none of the other denominations were in use after January 22. The company would have to use only the Battleship proprietary stamps (Figure 6). It was just over two months later, Wednesday, March 27, 1901, that the company was able to ship Bromo-Seltzer with a private die stamp with coded shipping date 3M1 (Figure 7).
Figure 6. Use of the Battleship proprietary stamps in March 1901.
Figure 7. The return to the private die stamps with precanceled shipping code cancellation.
Over the course of canceling the private die proprietary stamps, a number of interesting variations occurred. One of my favorites is the coded shipping cancel on March 30, 1901, on the 5/8-cent denomination. The person who set up the cancellation plate for 6M1 actually did not use the letter M in at least one position, but instead used an upside down W (Figure 8)!
Figure 8. Inverted W used instead of an M in the shipping code for Saturday, March 30, 1901.
About a month later, on April 29, the printing plate for the shipping codes includes two types of the letter R, one of which has what collectors have dubbed the long-footed R (Figure 9). The following week, when the shipping code featured the letter S, again two types of the letter S, a regular S and a narrow S, were used (Figure 10). Collectors of these shipping codes have casually observed that both of these varieties occur with about equal frequency, suggesting that the printing plates for these codes contain about equal numbers of regular R’s and long-footed R’s, as well as regular S’s and narrow S’s. There are also various types of anomalies among the shipping codes that can be found: missing periods, extra periods, and unequal spacing of the central letters. Altogether, the collecting of the shipping codes on Emerson’s private die stamps is a lifelong pursuit.
Left, Figure 9. Examples of the regular letter R and the long-footer R for the shipping code 1R1 for Monday, April 29, 1901. Right, Figure 10. Examples of the regular letter S and the narrow S used for the shipping code 2S2 for Tuesday, May 7, 1901.
Tuesday, May 21, 1901, is the last recorded date of the use of the private die proprietary stamps. After that, until the expiration of the tax on June 30, 1901, Emerson Drug Company again reverted to the use of the Battleship proprietary stamps (Figure 11) and the three-line cancellation that we saw in use earlier.
Figure 11. Examples from June 1901 when the company reverted to the use of the Battleship proprietary stamps.
Chappel, Clarence Henry and Morton D. Joyce. Proprietary Revenues of 1898: Precanceled Varieties (American Revenue Association, 1957). Available at the APRL: G3701 .R451 C467p Reprint 1957
Griffenhagen, George B. Private Die Proprietary Medicine Stamps [and Facsimile Labels] Handbook No. 66 American Topical Association, 1969. Available at the APRL: HE6183 .A1 A512a no.66 1991
Holcombe, Henry and George B. Griffenhagen. Patent Medicine Tax Stamps (Lawrence, MA: Quarterman Publications, 1979). Available at the APRL: G3701 .R451 H725p 1979