US Specimen Stamps

The study and enjoyment of US Specimen Stamps.

Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904

To my knowledge, there are only three known sets of the Louisiana Purchase series with “specimen” overprints.  It is, without question, among the rarest of U.S. specimens.  Recently, two sets were put up for auction by Robert Siegel.  For now, a word on the stamps themselves.


The Louisiana Purchase commemorative series were first sold May 1, 1904.  As with the Pan-American and Trans-Mississippi series, the Post Office followed its policy to limit their sale for the period of celebration of the event which they commemorate.  With the close of the Exposition on December 1, 1904, the stamps were returned to the Post Office, presumably to be destroyed.

The earliest known usage of these stamps is April 30, 1904.  Nine years ago, Siegel sold a cover of the 1 cent for an astonishing amount — $11,500.00.


This fact underscores the extraordinary value of the following item — without question, the earliest known use of the Louisiana Series, affixed to a letter dated April 16, 1904 from Edwin Madden, the 3rd Assistant Postmaster General, to one Allen V. Cockrell, the son of Brig. General (C.S.A.) Francis Marion Cockrell, who represented the State of Missouri for 30 years in the United States Senate.  A classic “Bourbon Democrat,” he distinguished himself by consistently opposing the majority, and avidly seeking pork barrel tidbits for his constituents.  Ousted by the Republican landslide of 1904, Cockrell landed on his feet, securing an appointment on the Interstate Commerce Commission.  He fought bravely for the Confederacy, and was reputed to be among the South’s most formidable combat officers.  The recipient of the letter, his son Allen Vardaman Cockrell, was 21 when he received this letter.  He died at the age of 30.


291 (1)

There is a fourth set of Louisiana specimens.  According to Mr. Madden, it reposes in the cornerstone of the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall.  The stamps are entombed along with a bible belonging to a Revolutionary War soldier, a copy of the  Declaration of Independence, portraits of the D.A.R. founding mothers, etc., etc.  The redoubtable woman pictured below with the actual cornerstone is D.A.R. President General Cornelia Fairbanks, along with the splendidly hirsute Edward Everett Hale, chaplain of the United States Senate, Unitarian minister, and author of “The Man Without a Country.”

Below is the envelope used to hold the Louisiana Purchase specimens, along with the ten cent issue from that series.  I have no information on this envelope; I would appreciate any information concerning the use of such envelopes.



The 1897 Universal Postal Congress Specimens

278S-O, the $5 Green, part of a set of 125 sets distributed in 1897 to delegates to the Universal Postal Congress in Washington D.C.

The Universal Postal Congress of 1897 — the 5th UPU Congress — was held in Washington, DC  from May 5, 1897 to June 15, 1897.  The Congress is the main international meeting of the Universal Postal Union, and served as the venue to discuss various issues affecting international postal services.

Fifty-five countries or territories (including the Republic of Hawaii) were represented at the Congress.  The principal accomplishment of the 1897 session concerned the lowering of international postal rates.

E5S-0, the 10c Special Delivery, with “Universal Postal Congress” overprint, in red.

The U.S. Delegation was led by George Sherman Batcheller (1837-1908), a distinguished jurist, Civil War veteran, and grand-nephew of Roger Sherman, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Batcheller was born in Batchellerville, NY, a small hamlet in Saratoga County, New York. He served the bulk of his career as an American judge in the International Tribunal (Mixed Courts) in Egypt. In addition, he was a member of the New York State Assembly, an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, a Minister to Portugal, and a trade representative for American insurance companies in Europe.

The well-festooned Hon. George S. Batcheller

His fellow delegates included 3rd Postmaster General A.D. Hazen, former Postmaster General James Noble Tyner, and one Edward Rosewater, born Edward Rosenwasser (January 21, 1841 – August 30, 1906), a Republican Party politician and newspaper editor in Omaha, Nebraska.  Rosewater served in the Civil War under General John C. Fremont  while attached to the United States Telegraph Corps.  In that capacity, he served at the White House telegraph office, where he was responsible for sending out Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.  This historical event was dramatized in a 1957 CBS special, “Ready, Mr. Rosewater.”

Edward Rosewater — muckraker, abolitionist, and plenipotentiary to the 1897 Universal Postal Congress.

Rosewater was a peculiar choice for the post, save for his apparently strong connections with the Republican Party.   That said, politics do make for strange bedfellows, and the composition of the U.S. Delegation was no exception.   The juxtaposition of this first-generation immigrant from Eastern Europe and the well-born, Harvard-educated Batcheller is, to say the least, a jarring one.  Rosewater likely spoke no French, the language in which UPU deliberations were conducted (he was born in Bohemia), and seemed to be of a decidedly undiplomatic temperament.  Rosewater constantly pursued his own version of news, and often got into violent confrontations; in one such fight, he was almost killed by a local worker after reporting on that man’s secret love affair.  Rosewater’s style and treatment of the news left him open to constant criticism and attacks of his journalism, however, they also lent to personal attacks, more than one of which were anti-Semitic in their nature.

277S-O, the $2 Blue with “Universal Postal Congress” overprint.

As a newspaper editor of the Omaha Bee, Rosewater was a combative and controversial figure, and an archetypal “Yellow Journalist”.  Yet, his civic contributions included the creation of the Omaha Board of Education and the founding of the public school system in that city.  Rosewater was also a founding member of the American Jewish Committee.

Delegates are usually presented with special albums of stamps (or envelopes containing the stamps) by the other participating countries, to cover the period since the previous congress.

J44S-O, 50c Claret, overprinted “Universal Postal Congress” in Black. Part of a set of postage due stamps.

These stamps are very rare; full sets may be found on occasion, are rare.  A total of 125 sets of the stamps were distributed to each delegate.  These included the regular issue of 1897, the 10c special delivery, postage due stamps, a grouping of embossed envelopes, and a set of Newspapers and Periodicals.  All bear the same “Universal Postal Congress” overprint.

The $50 Newspapers and Periodicals Issue, part of a set (114S-O thru 125S-O).


“First Sheet” — William Meredith and the Issue of 1903


303S-E Plate Strip of Three signed by Wm. Meredith

The Post Office and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had a practice, perhaps a point of pride, to circulate to patrons stamps taken from the first sheet of new issues.  This practice was reflected, and perhaps was limited to, the Issue of 1902-03.

13cent 001

We have seen letters from Edwin Madden, the 3rd PMG, which enclosed such first sheet exemplars.  Now we have further evidence, from the pen of the Chief of the Bureau — William Morton Meredith — that the Bureau put its mark on these newly-minted stamps.

313S, $5.00 Green, with Specimen. type E handstamp, handsome bottom sheet-margin example with diagonal Specimen. overprint at top left, signed, dated (3-18-1903) and noted insizable sheet selvage as a First Sheet specimen by William M. Me

Fig. A.  313S-E, $5.00 Green, with “Specimen.” type E handstamp, bottom sheet-margin signed, dated (3-18-1903) and noted as a “First Sheet” specimen by William M. Meredith, the Director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Ex-Brody.

An Indianian by birth, a printer by trade, and a former soldier in the Civil War regiment commanded by then Col. (and later President) Benjamin Harrison, Meredith was  appointed Chief of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in 1889 (until 1893).  Patronage aside, Meredith was sufficiently competent to be appointed Chief of the Bureau a second time in 1900 (until 1906), making Meredith the only person to hold the top position twice.  He left the Bureau in 1906, assuming another position within the Treasury Department, where he remained until his death at age 82.

William M. Meredith, Chief of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (1835-1917)

William M. Meredith, Chief of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (1835-1917)

Captain Meredith served under Harrison in the Battle of Resaca, in Georgia.  Meredith’s military lineage dates back to the War of Independence.  His ancestor, John Meredith, was a private in Captain Clugeman’s Company, of Dover, Delaware.  He served in Saratoga, Valley Forge, and Cowpens, the latter being a turning point in the reconquest of South Carolina from the British.

Fig. B.  311S-E, $1.00 with manuscript in selvage incl. “First Sheet” and signed by Wm. Meredith

In 2010, the $5 specimen surfaced in a Spinks auction.  The item sold for $1050.   This month, Siegel sold an extraordinary lot, which included, in addition to 311-SE (Fig. B),  the 3c, 6c, and 13c with manuscript in selvage including “First Sheet” and signed or initialed by Wm. Meredith.

306S-E Imprint Strip.

These items are of great philatelic significance.

Issue of 1869 — Type “H”

10c Yellow, “Specimen” Overprint, Ty. H (116SH) (ex-Lewenthal)

The Type H Specimen overprint is rare, and in the case of the example illustrated above, undocumented in the Scott Catalog.  It appears most frequently as an overprint on revenue stamps, and as well on certain denominations of the Columbian Issue of 1893.  It is likely a unique item.

To our knowledge, this item has not been on the market for nearly 35 years.  It was part of the collection of Robert Lewenthal, sold in 1978.

The Two Cent Issue of 1870

2c Red Brown, Specimen Overprint Ty. A (146S-A)

In this post, I explore specimen varieties of 146S and 178S (the 1875 Continental Bank Note Issue).  I ask all collectors with any information and/or images of specimen overprints for the “Large” Bank Note Issues to share their thoughts with me as we learn more about these overprints.

In his excellent article on the design of the 1870 Two Cent Jackson, Matthew Kerwiga  (“The United States 1870 2c Jackson:  From Conception to Finished Die”, The Chronicle of the U.S. Postal Classics Society, No. 207 at 58  (2007) ( describes the stamp’s evolution, through ten different essays, into the version known to all collectors.  This excruciating process was, in part, a function of the Post Office Department’s decision to abandon the image of a younger Jackson in full-battle dress, complete with a high-collared uniform.  After tinkering with the design through six different essays, Third Assistant Postmaster General Terrell pronounced unsatisfactory the “high collar affair”, informing the National Bank Note Company (who had the contract for the issue): “The reason we wish the two-cent new Jackson changed, is, it is believed a more characteristic picture of the old hero can be obtained.  Yours is too young and not likely to be recognized.  ‘Old Hickory’ is what we want.”

National Bank Note Co., 2c Black, Jackson, Unadopted Design, Large Die Essay on India (146-E7a). On card and reduced to stamp size, ex-Lake Shore Collection

And so “Old Hickory” is what they got, using as its model an extraordinarily different image of the 7th President — Hiram Powers’ 1837 Bust of Jackson.   The Powers bust — a copy of which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art — launched Powers’ career as a neoclassical sculptor of the first rank.  To gain access to Jackson, Powers procured a letter of introduction (and financing) from his Cincinnati patron Nicholas Longworth (his grandson would become Speaker of the House).   Jackson sat for Powers in the fall of 1834 through January 1835.  By then, Jackson was sixty-seven, the oldest of our sitting presidents until Ronald Reagan.

The bust is brutally realistic.  Jackson’s long lean face is deeply marked with wrinkles, and his mouth and cheeks sunken from lack of teeth.

Andrew Jackson by Hiram Powers, 1837

Andrew Jackson (circa 1839), by Hiram Powers (American, Woodstock, Vermont 1805–1873 Florence), Metropolitan Museum of Art

Terrell approved the use of the Powers bust as the model, but not without editorial comments.  After admitting to have never seen “‘the hoss,'” he suggested that Jackson be given a new hair style and a bit of a chin tuck:  “I beg to suggest, however, that the picture will be improved if you will trim off a portion of the hero’s back hair, all the pictures I have ever seen representing his head as thin and high.  Also that his chin may be very properly toned down very little.”

The final result was a less stark (and more elaborately coiffed) Jackson, whose hair appears more like a “perm” in the manner of a Marcel Wave.  In any event, satisfied with the tenth (and final) essay, dies were cast, and the stamp was sold to the public in July 1870.  This image of Jackson remained, more or less, the model for all subsequent philatelic images of Jackson through the Bureau issues of the late 1890s.

Large Die Essay on India, Thin Card (146-E12).

Scott identifies two types of specimen overprints for the 1870 two cent.  I have personally handled three of the Type A’s which are illustrated in this post.  All three have the characteristic “x” manuscript mark, in addition to the 12 mm Type A specimen overprint.

Scott also lists a Type B, with a blue overprint, also illustrated below.  While both are scarce, I am aware of only one Type B, which was last seen at a 1999 Siegel Auction.  Type B overprints for both the Issue of 1870 and 1873 are cataloged in Scott.

146S-A (with tiny manuscript “x”) (ex-Ainsworth, ex-Koller, ex-Falkenburg). Part of a complete set of Type A overprints.

2c Red Brown, Specimen Overprint Ty. B (146SB) (ex-Finkelburg) (Sold by Siegel in 1999)

146S-A (with tiny manuscript “x”) (P.F. Cert. 1985)

This presentation block of six of the 1875 Two Cent (178S-var.) is not listed in Scott.  It has the characteristic manuscript “x” but no specimen overprint.

The 1903 Two Cent “Shield” Washington Specimen

In my last post, I discussed Edwin Madden’s practice of favoring his political benefactors with yet-to-be issued specimens of new stamps, taken from the first sheet printed by the Bureau of Engraving & Printing.  In his letter to one William Hoban, Mr. Madden explained that the Two Cent Issue of 1902 was deemed “unsatisfactory”, and was withdrawn from circulation.

(301S-E), the Two Cent carmine Type E Specimen.

Why?  The soon-to-be auctioned collection of Natalee Grace provided the following explanation:  “According to Johl, the proofs of the regularly-issued 2c stamp (Scott 301) were considered masterpieces, but when the stamp was issued in red using the wet paper printing method it was widely criticized. Washington’s nose was excessively red and the details of the design were lost. The New York Times wrote that “if not labelled Washington it could be taken for Adams, Madison or Monroe”. Faced with such criticism the post office department rushed a replacement stamp into use — the 2c Shield issue (Scott 319 and 320) — less than nine months later.”

(319S-E), Two Cent carmine Type E

The replacement was issued on November 12, 1903.  The first version — the Type I — was the specimen stamp Madden sent to Mr. Hoban on October 26, 1903.  The Type I version Madden sent has a thin inner line and lower left leaf breaks the frame.

Enlarged view of the Type I version of the 1903 Two Cent Specimen.

The Type II has a thick inner line; the leaf does not break the frame line, as illustrated below.

An enlarged close up of the proof for the Type II version of the 1903 Two-Cent..  

To my knowledge, all specimens of the Two Cent “Shield” stamp are Type I versions; I would be interested if any collectors have a Type II in their collection.  I doubt it, given that the Type II (Scott 319f) was not issued until 1908; by that time, the Post Office appeared to have suspended the practice of distributing specimens.

Edwin Madden and the Series of 1902-3 Specimens

Edwin Madden, the 3rd Assistant Postmaster General (1899-1907) occupies a singular place in American philatelic history due to his involvement with the release of the inverted 4 cent value of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition issue.  James H. Bruns’ 1990 article, “Edwin C. Madden’s Influence on U.S. Philately” (American Philatelic Congress 1991) is the definitive discussion of the production and distribution of the 4 cent invert, examples of which Mr. Madden handed out to friends, colleagues — but, mainly, to political benefactors and elected officials — between the years 1901 through 1904.  The resulting scandal likely ended Madden’s practice of distributing  other “specimen” overprints, which (while less valuable) doubtless followed the same practice of political cronyism reflected in the 4c invert scandal.

304SE, 5c Blue, with small Specimen. overprint type E, two examples, one with vertical overprint in top left margin, other a most unusual plate no. 1537 single with theoverprint diagonally across the center, deep rich colors, o.g., h.r., very

304S-E, the five cent blue with plate number 1537, with Madden’s handstamp (Type E) in purple.

Madden hailed from Detroit, where he worked as a fireman, and later an engineer, on the Detroit, Grand Haven and Milwaukee Railroad.  A member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, that affiliation may have both given him a taste for, and an entry into, politics.  It certainly greased the skids for his entry into the world of the Post Office, thanks to his benefactor, Russell Alger, then governor of Michigan.  A slight variation on other stories guided by another Alger, but nonetheless Madden was seen by his colleagues and employees as a rags to riches story, as reflected in the title of an article in April 1900 issue of a periodical called The Fourth Class Postmaster, “Perseverance and Pluck Combined with Native Ability Have Brought Mr. Madden From Messenger Boy to His High Position.”  Indeed, Madden made significant postal improvements, including the system of letter carrier registration, hence saving the patron a trip to the local post office to register items.

(306S-E), the 8c violet black, imprint pair.

This conscientious and capable postal official nonetheless shouldered responsibility for several embarrassing mistakes, chief among them the distribution of the “specimen” overprinted 4c Pan-American invert.  Madden’s first line of defense was to claim that what he did was modest by comparison to what his predecessors did.  To this end, he furnished a chart of the give-aways distributed during his and earlier postal administration, underscoring two critical points.  First, that the use of “give aways” (with or without specimen overprints) was a time-honored political tradition; second, that Madden was able to access his own lists of beneficiaries of this largesse, as well as lists compiled by his predecessors.

We have the Madden four cent invert “gift list”.  It reveals three especially interesting facts.  First, the number of specimen inverts distributed:  186.  Second, the recipients, including (primarily Republican) politicos, such as Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, two future Vice-Presidents, Attorney General Philander C. Knox, and George Cortelyou, then secretary to President Roosevelt, and later the first Secretary of the Department of Labor and Commerce.  Third, that Madden kept meticulous records, which reflected the fact that he continued to distribute these specimens well after the initial scandal over the production of the error first broke, in 1901.

(303S-E), the 4c brown, Type E specimen, imprint pair

One less well-known recipient of the invert was Rep. Edgar Weeks, a Michigan congressman who obtained his 4c Pan-American from Mr. Madden on February 15, 1902.  Weeks was finishing his second (and last) term in Congress.  Other members of the Michigan Republican congressional delegation also received these stamps.

One year after bestowing upon Weeks his 4c invert, Mr. Madden delivered additional bounty — this time in the form of a letter which included specimen overprints of the 1902 issue.  The March 23, 1903 letter — sent after Weeks had been voted out of office, and had returned to the practice of law in Michigan — enclosing these stamps is illustrated below. We do not know whether Madden (or Weeks) affixed the stamps to the letter; I rather suspect that this was not done by Madden. Nonetheless, he explains the significance — to stamp collectors — of these exemplars, having taken them from the first sheet of stamps of the issue.  Noting that the enclosed stamps complete the 1902 Series, the letter makes plain that Madden had already delivered the other denominations from the issue to his political friend in Michigan.  A copy of the letter sent to Congressman Weeks is illustrated below, and was sold in the 1990 Siegel Rarities of the World Auction.

3c-$5.00 1902 Issue (302S, 305S, 307S, 309S-313S). Type E Specimen Overprints, applied to Official Post Office Letter indicating they came from the First Sheets Printed. Letter dated March 23, 1903 before many of the stamps were released to the public, Extremely Rare and possibly unique.

Rep. Weeks was not the only Michigander who obtained a complete set of the 1902 Series from the first sheets produced by the Bureau of Engraving & Printing.  One J. William Hoban also received a set, as reflected in an October 26, 1903 letter sent by Madden, and illustrated below.  In it, Madden explains that the original two-cent issue was deemed “not satisfactory” to the Department, and replaced with the 1903 version, a specimen of which is illustrated here:

(319S-E), two-cent carmine, with Type E specimen overprint.

While I cannot say who Mr. Hoban was, the fact that it is addressed to the Post Office in Detroit suggests that he was, perhaps, the Postmaster of that city.  In any event, Mr. Hoban’s name did not find its way onto the gift list for the 4c invert.  The point, however, remains the same: A careful review of Mr. Madden’s correspondence might help catalog the number (and recipients) of specimen overprints created during his tenure, and speak to the then-routine practice of remembering friends and political allies in an era where the Post Office Department was among the most significant departments of the Federal Government, for purposes of using patronage to reward political stalwarts of the party in power.

A complete set of the 1902-03 Series is shown below.

I welcome my readers to share with me other insights into the tenure of Mr. Madden, especially as it concerns the distribution of specimen stamps.

Counterfeit Stamps — The 1895 “C” Specimen Overprint

The problem of “spurious” or counterfeit stamps has bedeviled the postal authorities from the earliest days of adhesive stamps to the present time.  A recent report, concerning fake 44c stamps, noted that the USPS suffered an annual loss of over $134 million due to counterfeits.  The ingenuity of philatelic fakes — in stamps and cancellations — is well-documented, and the mountebanks who perpetrated these frauds have been celebrated for both their audacity as well as their artistry.

The Master’s Hand — Jean de Sperati. One suspects that the insinuation of nobility via the added “de” was as spurious as the stamps Sperati created.

Chief among them was Jean de Sperati (1884-1957), the “Rubens of Philately”, whose facsimiles were so good that they are today highly sought after by collectors. The law eventually caught up with Sperati — a French court sentenced him to one year in prison — as his defense that he “forgot” to mark his works of art as forgeries did not impress the tribunal.

Providence R.I., 5c Gray Black, Sperati Forgery (10X1 var). Printed on 63 x 47mm thin card, signed below design and with “Sperati 43 Reproduction” backstamp,

Nonetheless, Sperati forgeries or “reproductions” command significant prices at auction.  One may view examples in the upcoming Mirsky Collection, to be auctioned by Robert Siegel this month.

Unlike Sperati, the Post Office did not “forget” to alert the public and its postmasters to the existence of forgeries.  Thus, in April 1895, Kerr Craige, the Third Assistant Postmaster General sent a one-page circular (illustrated above), with examples of forged stamps created in 1894, with a large “c” overprinted on each stamp.  This curious bit of philatelic history qualifies as a “specimen”, though one with a well-known and interesting history.

The first “Chicago Counterfeit” (248F), illustrated below, was printed in Chicago by a group headed by a woman, Mary Tinsey McMillan.  The stamps were sold through a so-called “Canadian Novelty Supply Co.” ‘in Hamilton, Ontario.  Once caught and convicted, Ms. McMillan was sentenced to eighteen months in prison.  Very few of these stamps were circulated.  An 1895 account of the discovery of the forgeries, in the Milwaukee Journal, may be viewed at,3041131.  Today, these forgeries command significant prices; the example illustrated below sold as part of a group of Chicago counterfeits at Siegel in 2006 for $325.

2c pink, “Chicago Counterfeit” (248F). An unused single, typical rough perfs.

H.K. Petschel’s excellent book, “Spurious Stamps:  A History of U.S. Postal Counterfeits”, provides an engrossing description of the hunt for and capture of Ms. McMillan’s gang in the first known United States postal counterfeit.  Together with the Secret Service, the Chief Inspector of the Post Office Department took a cache of seized Chicago Counterfeits, and affixed “C” overprinted specimens on a letter sent to all postmasters.  The letter advised that upon discovery of such fakes, the postmaster was to take all “active measures” to expeditiously advise the inspectors of their discovery.

A close up of the “C” Overprinted Chicago Forgeries, from 3rd P.M.G.’s circular

Mr. Petschel notes that, in the years that followed, “C” overprint specimens of the Chicago Counterfeits found their way into collector’s hands, leading to the conclusion “that the Post Office Department had failed to recall and account for the warning notices (with attached “C”-marked specimen stamps) that they had previously sent out to the postmasters, and that some of these items eventually found their way into the hands of private collectors.”

As Petschel notes, the Chicago Counterfeit was the first, but certainly not the last, attempt to bilk the POD out of revenue.  The following year, another forgery circulated — this one (illustrated below) of Scott 267.

2c Carmine, Ty. III, Lithographed Counterfeit (267 var).

The 1875 “Special Printings” of Specimen Overprints

I am grateful to the eminent philatelist, Stanley Piller, for his comment on the origins of the 1875 “Special Printings” of Official Stamps bearing the “Specimen” Overprint.  I republish Mr. Piller’s comments, in their entirety, as a guest post.

     With regards to the Official Stamps with SPECIMEN Overprint:  These are NOT in the same category as all the other Specimen overprints, with one exception.  All specimen overprints were applied to stamps to prevent them from being used.  In 1875, when the Post Office started supplying examples of all the US stamps made (design wise) since 1847, they faced a dilemma regarding the Official Stamps. The ONLY people who could mail a letter with any Official stamp were employees of the specific Department in the course of doing business for that department.  Ordinary citizens could not buy or own the Official stamps, nor could they use them.

To solve this problem, the Post Office Department made and sold the SPECIAL PRINTING of Official Stamps, along with the Reproductions, Re-Prints, Re-Issues and Special Printings of all the other stamps sold.  Carrier stamps could be sold as there was no way one could use a stamp that was paying for a fee that did not exist.  Postage Dues were not a problem as you couldn’t mail a letter with a postage due stamp or if you had one to use it to pay the Postage Due.. The Post Office put them on letters indicating that postage due was paid. Newspaper stamps were only made available by the Post Office to put on the receipts given to the mailers. The vast majority of NO GUM newspapers are technically used stamps uncancelled on PO Receipts. Official seal stamps didn’t pay a postage.  As to regular issues, one could use any Re-Issue or Special Printing on a letter if you desired. Official stamps presented a different problem. To get around that problem the PO overprinted them with the word specimen so that if you tried to use it on mail the clerks could easily recognize what they were. They were done in this manner so that the Public could not use one on a letter

The result was that all the Official SPECIAL PRINTINGS bear the word Specimen. (The lone exception is the 1879 printing of the 1c Agriculture without gum on Soft paper, that technically could have been used if someone in the Agriculture Dept were to get their hands on one).  BUT, these are the equivalent of the Regular Issue stamps sold.  It has taken Dealers, Collectors and the Scott catalog over a 100 years to recognize that fact. That is why they are today still vastly UNDERVALUED.

Could they have been used? Only if the user was sending an Official department letter on Official Business. No letters are known that way and while a few have what appear to be GENUINE cancels from the period, they have all been deemed counterfeit cancels including the 12c Agriculture Sepcimen Error that has a target cancel (ex- Lewenthal and now in one of the finest collections of Official Special Printings). Why one would put a counterfeit cancel on 1 of the 4 known 12c sepcimens is beyond anybody’s guess. I own a $2 State where someone ( who obviously was not a true collector) attempted to remove the Specimen, thereby damaging one of the 32 sold.



The Columbian Exposition Issue Specimens

(244S-E) $4 Crimson Lake Type E with Dull Purple handstamp

The Columbian Exposition of 1893 — sometimes known as the Chicago World’s Fair — was a signal American cultural event, a celebration of coming modernity, located, fittingly, in American’s first modern city.  Twenty-seven million people visited the Fair, including Frederick Douglass (sent as Haiti’s delegate), Helen Keller, Nikola Tesla, Scott Joplin, Susan B. Anthony, and Andrew Carnegie.  Buffalo Bill Cody was denied a spot a the fair; he came anyway, setting up his Wild West show just outside the exposition, giving added poignancy to the Exposition’s true message:  That the modern age, so vividly on display in Chicago, spelled the end of the American frontier which Buffalo Bill represented.

Symbolism aside, the Exposition was first and foremost a commercial endeavor.  The department store magnate turned Postmaster General, John Wanamaker, intuitively (or obviously) recognized the commercial appeal of the Fair, and saw an opportunity to advertise the event as well as to generate revenue for the Post Office.  His experiment — the first commemorative stamps — met with resistance from collectors (an organization called the Society for the Suppression of Speculative Stamps urged collectors to refuse to purchase the stamps) and in Congress — legislation to block the sale of the Columbians was introduced but, fortunately, did not pass.

Yes, yes you say — all this is very interesting; but what about the Specimens?  We know that they were distributed (perhaps as gifts to the various Sachems who visited the fairgrounds), in envelopes marked with the Type E specimen overprint, and printed “United States Postage Stamps, Issue 1893, Columbians”.  Beyond this, I can offer only speculation as to their origins and purpose.  I invite my fellow collectors to weigh in with additional information regarding the provenance of these wonderful stamps.

There are five different types of specimen overprints, four of them recognized in the Scott Catalog.

Type E Specimen

The Type E specimen is the most common of the overprints, known to exist in all 16 denominations of the issue.  Nonetheless, complete sets are very rare, and command a significant premium over catalog.  Such a complete set, sold in the 2008 Siegel Auction from The Barry Schwartz Collection, brought $23,000 — roughly three times the listed price in Scott.  The works illustrated in the 16 stamps reflect the summa of American painting circa the mid-to late 19th Century.

(233S-E) "Fleet of Columbus", Four Cent "Type E" Specimen Overprint

(238S-E) 15 cent dark green, Type E Specimen, "Columbus Announcing His Discovery"

(240S-E) 50 cent slate blue, Type E, "Recall of Columbus". The painting, by A.G. Heaton, hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

(242S-E) $2 brown red, Type E, "Columbus in Chains", based on Emanuel Leutze's painting...

..and Leutze's painting, which depicts Columbus' return from his third voyage, clapped in irons by the Spanish governor of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti).

(245S-E) $5 Black, "Columbus"

Type F Specimen

An exceptionally rare stamp, perhaps unique, the Type F Specimen — 22 mm in length, Old English typeface — is known to exist in seven denominations.  Sold as a set in the 2005 Siegel Auction, the complete set of seven values – 1c, 3c, 4c, 5c, 6c, 10c and $3.00 – ranks among the rarest of all of the Columbian issues.  The $3 Type F is illustrated below.  The Type F is also known to exist in the one cent Trans-Mississippi (285S-F), and was last seen in the 1978 Robert Lewenthal Sale.

(243S-F) $3 yellow green, Type F, "Columbus Describing His Third Voyage", after a painting by Francisco Jover. Fewer than 29,000 of this denomination were issued.

Type I Specimen

Equal in rarity to the Type F specimen, the Type I is a manuscript overprint, in red or black, written in hand, and is roughly 20 mm in length.   Ten denominations are catalogued — all but the one cent, and the dollar values of the issue.  The author has six of these in this collection, all ex-Molesworth.  The 15 cent is illustrated below.

(238S-I), 15 cent Type I, red manuscript overprint.

Type H Specimen

Scott recognizes the Type “H” Specimen overprint in three denominations – the two, four, and five cent, in red or black overprint.  The author has never seen this overpriint, which measures 16mm in length.  I have, however, obtained a variation of the Type H (measuring 20mm x 3 mm), which while close in resemblance, is of unknown origin.  It is illustrated, below.

(235S) Six Cent Columbian, Overprint of unknown origin.