Henry Tolman II was one of the giants of U.S. revenue philately in the 20th century. The dispersal of his collection took place in four auctions by the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries. My recent assignment as judge for an exhibit of U.S. beer stamps at Balpex 2022 sent me to my hard copy of Sale 919, The Henry Tolman II Collection of United States Revenue Stamps, Part Two – Beer Stamps. What I found there was an incredible resource.
The first beer stamps, the Series of 1866, were produced by the Note Printing Division of the Treasury Department, the predecessor of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP).
The government produced the first three issues of beer stamps (the Series of 1866, 1867, and 1870).
The apparent concern about counterfeiting led the BEP to introduce the Casilear wavy lines as part of the design of the Series of 1870. John Casilear was a leading Hudson River School painter, who by 1869 was an engraver for the BEP and had patented the wavy lines as a security measure against counterfeiting. But by 1871, National Bank Note Company had succeeded in obtaining the contract for printing the frames of the beer stamps, while the BEP retained the contract for printing the central vignettes in black. This remained so for both the Series of 1871 and 1875 beer stamps. Beginning with the Series of 1878, the BEP printed the rest of the beer stamps until they were discontinued, effective January 1, 1955.
Traditionally, a stamp exhibit begins with preproduction material, essays and proofs. Given the history of the production of the beer stamps before 1878, essays from this early period might be an important part of an exhibit during this early period.
The Tolman auction began with 65 lots of essays and proofs. The first seven lots were some very rare oval essays (Figure 1), which are thought to have been produced by the American Phototype Company, the contract printer of the largest number of imprinted revenues on checks, receipts, insurance policies, stocks, and bonds prior to 1875. It is not known when this might have been submitted to Internal Revenue in an attempt to obtain the contract for printing the beer stamps.
Figure 1. An example of the oval beer essay (Siegel Sale 919, lot 101) produced by the American Phototype Company of New York City.
Another important essay among the early beer stamps is an example of an engraved vignette for the Series of 1875 beer stamps (Figure 2). The National Bank Note Company was successful bidder for the contract to print the frames of the 1875 beer stamps. The frames were produced by typography (Figure 3).
Figure 2. An example of a BEP essay for the engraved vignette for the 1875 eighth barrel beer stamp (Siegel Sale 919, lot 139).
Figure 3. An example of the National Bank Note essay for the typographed vignette for the 1875 quarter barrel beer stamp (Siegel Sale 919, lot 141).
One of the more challenging areas of the issued beer stamps are the “third barrel” denomination, which was a new denomination used for one-third barrels added with the 1867 issue. Not initially included in the original 1866 issue, California brewers requested this denomination because the maximum load for mules carrying beer up to the High Sierras was two of the third barrels, one on each side and joined together over the back of a mule. The brewers were looking to get the maximum amount of beer up to the hard working and thirsty men.
The Tolman collection included one of seven recorded examples of 1867 third barrel stamps (Figure 4). In 1933, after Prohibition, the third barrel stamp was still being printed, but its use had fallen off; presumably mules were no longer being used to carry beer from the breweries to the local saloons. The Tolman collection indeed had an example of the 1933 third barrel stamp (Figure 5).
Figure 4. The 1867 third barrel beer stamp, one of seven recorded examples (Siegel Sale 919, lot 198).
Figure 5. The 1933 third barrel beer stamp, one of ten recorded examples (Siegel Sale 919, lot 385).
The area of provisionals created for new beer tax rates is also very well represented in the catalog. One of my favorites is from the 1914 period, created in the 14th District of New York by Internal Revenue District Collector Roscoe Irwin. The handstamp that was used to uprate the stamp includes the signature of Irwin himself (Figure 6). On a personal note, I used the pseudonym Roscoe Irwin when I wrote a regular column on revenues for (Mid)Western Stamp Collector.
Figure 6. Handstamp that was used in 1914 to surcharge the 1909 quarter barrel beer stamp from 25 cents to 37½ cents (Siegel Sale 919, lot 320).
The period of 1917-1919 is replete with examples of provisionals for the tax rate changes. Both BEP-printed overprints and local handstamps are represented. A quick sampling would include the “Act of 1917” overprint that was printed by the BEP, in essence doubling the tax rate from $1.50 to $3.00 per barrel (Figure 7). Figure 8 shows a similar “Act of 1917” handstamp that was added in a local district collector’s office.
Figure 7. BEP printed “Act of 1917”, overprint in effect doubling the amount of tax on beer (Siegel Sale 919, lot 335).
Figure 8. Local district handstamp “Act of 1917” that doubled the amount of tax being collected on beer (Siegel Sale 919, lot 338).
A year later in 1918, the tax on beer was again doubled. The two rate increases were the result of the need to raise federal revenue to pay the costs of our participation in World War I and the urging of the alcohol prohibition advocates for Congress to discourage the drinking of alcoholic beverages by making them more expensive. This second doubling of the tax rate led, in a few examples, to a new “Act of 1918” handstamp added to a beer stamp that had already been provisionally overprinted on a previous year’s surcharged stamp (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Local district handstamp “Act of 1918” that doubled the amount of tax being collected on a beer stamp that had been surcharged the previous year by the B54 (Siegel Sale 919, lot 354).
One could go on to illustrate the many gems that were part of the Tolman beer collection. But the point has already been made. The Siegel Sale 919 catalog contains an enormous number of illustrations and excellent photographs that enable the collector to see how the many listed varieties of beer stamps look.
The number of illustrations far exceed the illustrations in the Priester (1979 and 1990) beer stamp catalogs and the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers. For anyone collecting beer stamps, this auction catalog belongs in their philatelic library.