Coney's Stamps

Font Decrease Font Increase

Library Card CatalogLibrary Card CatalogThe First Regular Issues of the U.S.

Scott's #1 and #2

Many of the pre-July 1, 1847 stamps, known to collectors as carriers, locals and provisional's are not considered “regular US Postage stamps” and were not issued by authority of the U.S. Post Office Department. These privately-produced postage stamps were available in the United States. Issued by postmasters in cities such as New York and Providence, Rhode Island, these stamps are known today as "postmaster provisional's."

Following the precedent set by England in 1840 with the ‘Penny Black’, Congress approved the Post Office Act of March 3, 1847, which was to take effect on July 1, 1847.  This outlawed postage stamps not authorized by the Postmaster General. This authorized the U.S. Postmaster General "be authorized to prepare postage stamps, which when attached to any letter or packet, shall be evidence of the payment of the postage chargeable on such letter."

The Five and Ten Cent stamps of 1847 were the first adhesive postage stamps authorized for issue by the U.S. Post Office Department The five-cent stamp paid for domestic letters within a 300 mile radius of the originating post office and the ten-cent stamp for anything beyond that. 

The New York City bank note engraving firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson were awarded a four year contract to print the first postage stamps. At the bottom of each of these issues the printer clearly engraved "RWH&E" and incorporated portraits by engraver Asher Brown Durand. The portrait of Franklin from the 5 cent stamp is also found on the $2.00 bank note issues by the Chemical Bank of New York.  Likewise, that of Washington from the 10 cent stamp is on the $5.00 bank note of the Fairfield County Bank.

The first US Stamps were originally intended for release on July 1, only the New York City Post Office received stamps followed a day later by Boston, on July 2. Covers with July 1847 dates are very rare and sought after by collectors.
This new law did not require pre-payment. Estimates say 1 out of 50 letters bore the new stamps, which means that most were still sent without stamps.  The person who received the letter was expected to pay the fee before the letter was handed over. 

These two stamps were originally proposed as bi-color stamps.  The denominations would have been overprinted in red ink as a security measure, a common method of thwarting counterfeiters of paper money at the time. The cost for a two-color process was twenty-five cents per thousand stamps. For the one color process, the cost dropped to twenty cents per thousand. It was decided that the cost was too high for the extra features and the one color process was selected.
Nearly every ten-cent stamp is sharp and crisply printed, while the five-cent stamps appear dull, and not as crisp. This has been attributed to the poor quality of the ink used, or it may have been the way the ink was handled. The five-cent stamp does provide collectors with a variety of shades, ranging a very dark brown (almost black) to a full orange and everything in-between.

Questions have surrounded the printing methods used on the five cent issue. For a long time experts maintained that only one plate had been used. There are examples of the five cent issue which are sharper than others suggesting that a “later” plate may have been produced. 

The 1847 Issue was valid for four years, from July 1 through June 30, 1851. Approximate totals for production are: 3.6 million five cent stamps with an Earliest Known Use (EKU) of July 7th and 864,000 of the ten cent stamp with an EKU of July 2nd. A new issue of stamps corresponding to the 1851 rate changes was issued on July 1, and the 1847 stamps were immediately demonetized.

Among the provisions of the Post Office Act of March 3, 1851, was the reduction of postage rates from five cents to three cents on prepaid letters weighing not more than one-half ounce and addressed to locations not more than 3,000 miles apart. At the same time they demonetized the stamps of 1847. Even though the five-cent and ten-cent stamps were no longer valid after July 30, 1851, customers could exchange them for the new stamps through September 29, 1851.

In November 1851, Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson suggested that the destruction of all dies and plates since no further use would be made of the five-cent and ten-cent stamps. The destruction was carried out on December 12, 1851 with three officials present. However, there is no record documenting the destruction of the transfer rolls. It is tantalizing to note that in or about 1858, 1878 and 1895, reprints of the five-cent and ten-cent stamps were produced by the American Bank Note Company, successor firm to ‘Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson’. This would make on wonder if all the dies, plates and transfer rolls, were destroyed. Wouldn’t it be something to find them in an old box behind the boiler!

Full sheets of 200 stamps of these stamps no longer exist today. The largest surviving pieces are two panes of 100 original plate proofs, one of each. Both are marked with the overprint "Specimen." These two panes were found recently in an American Bank Note Company specimen archival proof book. What a find!

Finally, in 1855, it was required that all letters are prepaid and it has remained that way since.