Notes on United States Stamps

The postage stamps of the United States seem to possess a charm which the average collector is powerless to resist. I will not here attempt to particularize their attractions, nor will I consume space in sounding their praise as a whole. Suffice to say, my interest in them has existed some eight or nine years, and they still demand and receive the greater part of the time spent with my collection.

It is apparent to the casual observer, if he happens to be a stamp collector, that perforating stamps was not an art in 1869. If you are a stickler for evenly centered stamps, the 1869 set will try your patience. It is almost impossible to get the stamps of this set evenly centered. Poorly centered copies are by far more numerous in this issue, in proportion to the number of stamps in circulation, than in any other United States issue.

A set of proofs is very interesting. These show the exact shades the stamps were originally printed in, and are often of material assistance to shade collectors. But even proofs cannot nail that 3-cent pink, as it is merely a shade and was not produced designedly. I do not know of any way to choose a pink with certainty from the multitudinous shades of the 3-cent rose, 1861-63. For my part I have quit trying. I have what I call a pink in my collection. The ambition that once burned within me to possess a quantity of pinks was forever chilled by the knowing smiles of friends to whom I ventured to exhibit a few duplicates.

The withdrawal of the orange special delivery stamp after such a short period of existence should make it desirable. It was not too plentiful while in everyday use, and its unexpected withdrawal is very likely to have found dealers a little short. It will probably be comparatively rare, as the number used were necessarily quite small.

Grilled United States stamps do not receive all the attention they are entitled to. They do not mark mere varieties, as a rule, but distinct issues, and as such are exceedingly interesting. They have been asserting their rights of late years, though, and the cataloguers are gradually listing the several sizes. Speaking of grilles reminds me of the time I had when my first catalogue was bought, determining the meaning of “embossing” as it applied to stamps. I am prejudiced against the word as a result, and do wish Scott would drop it.

One of the attractions of United States stamps is the number of slight yet distinct differences in them. Without going into the little things that specialists delight in, but confining myself to catalogue varieties, I might mention the varieties of the 1-cent, 1851 and 1857; the 3-cent outer line, 1857; the 5-cent, 1856, with ornaments, and 1857, without ornaments; the 5-cent brown and 5-cent red-brown of 1856 and 1857; the 5-cent brown and 5-cent yellow-brown of 1861; the various grilles; the government reprints.

The 1870-82 stamps are a field for research if minor differences interest you. Mekeel lists the 1870 designs up to the 10-cent, omitting the 7-cent, as printed from the original plates, from worn plates, from new plates and from re-engraved plates. The 10-cent is listed in chocolate, dark brown, yellow-brown and purple-brown. When you have found all these varieties, turn your attention to looking for others and for those faint 1870 grilles.

Those who are fortunate enough to possess a good copy of the 90-cent Justice have a gem, indeed. Although this stamp advances from $10 in the fifty-third catalogue to $16.50 in the fifty-fourth, I think it is still priced below its real value. I have seen copies offered recently at $18, $18.50 and $20. From $20 to $22 is not too much to ask for perfect copies.

The 90-cent orange, 1890, like the 90-cent purple, 1888, has attracted speculators, and it has been stated that some dealers have very large holdings of this stamp. Be that as it may, the demand is good and improving. I believe lightly canceled, evenly centered copies are easily worth 75 to 90 cents each. If you are at all fastidious in the choice of specimens, you are likely to have some difficulty in securing a satisfactory copy of this stamp. At least such is my experience.

There is another 90-cent stamp that I have great faith in – greater faith than have the catalogues. It is the 90-cent, 1869. It is cheap, very cheap, at $10, and I doubt if a good specimen is for sale in New York at that price. I think $12 for used copies, and $15 for unused is rather low for this stamp. It is a beautiful stamp and one that is missing in many collections of considerable value.

Perhaps it is not generally known to collectors – I do not recollect seeing it in any stamp paper – that the portrait of any person has never appeared upon a Untied States postage stamp during the life of such person. If you take the trouble to look the matter up, you will find that it is only after death that our government thus honors the nation’s great men. You will find also that the portrait of Washington appears upon the most-used value of every series except that of 1869 and the Columbians.

Stamps collectors seem to be inconsistent. The same fellow who cries out against reprints as a class has helped to push the prices of United States reprints of the 1869 series above the prices of the genuine originals.

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