1895 1¢ Franklin
Issued: April 29, 1895
Issue Quantity: 1,971,338,063
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Watermark: Double line USPS
After an 1895 counterfeiting scam, the Post Office Department made the decision to print stamps on watermarked paper. A watermark is a pattern impressed into the paper during its manufacture. While still in the wet pulp stage, the paper passes through a “dandy roller” which has “bits” attached to it. These bits are pressed into the paper, causing a slight thinning, thus imprinting the design.
Beginning with the first postage stamp, watermarks were used to discourage counterfeiting. Britain’s Penny Black was watermarked with a small, simple crown. Various other designs were used until 1967, when Britain produced its first stamp on unwatermarked paper. Today, many British commonwealth countries still use watermarks. The designs range from letters to symbols or emblems, from the simple to the intricate.
The first U.S. watermark consisted of the letters USPS (United States Postal Service) and is described as being “double-lined.” The letters were repeated across the entire sheet, and as a result, only a portion of one or more letters will appear on a stamp. Occasionally, a stamp will have a complete letter on it. When the stamps were printed, no thought was given to the position of the watermark. Consequently, the watermark may be backwards, upside-down, backwards and upside-down, or sideways in relation to the stamp. None are unusual or considered a separate variety.
Errors were made, however, on the 6¢ Garfield and the 8¢ Sherman, when some of the stamps were printed on sheets watermarked USIR (United States Internal Revenue). Since the BEP printed regular issue postage stamps, as well as revenue stamps, it’s easy to see how such a mistake may have happened. Some believe the switch may have been deliberate, because not enough properly marked paper was available.
A watermark can be identified by holding the stamp up to a light source, or with the aid of a watermark tray and benzine fluid. When the stamps are printed on a colored background, as the 1895 series is, the latter method is preferred. The stamp is placed face down in the tray, and a small drop of solution is dropped onto it. As the liquid penetrates the paper, the watermark will show up briefly, as the thinner paper is penetrated first.