1895 $2 Madison
Issued: August 13, 1895
Issue Quantity: 31,720
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Watermark: Double line USPS
A limited quantity of $2 Madison stamps printed on watermarked paper were issued on August 13, 1895. They were replaced by the $2 Series of 1902 stamp on June 5, 1903.
Many of the stamps were used to frank mail to Europe, which is where a number of U.S. #277 stamps have been found in collections. Most feature cancellations applied to second and third class mail or on registered bank mail.
Well-centered examples can be difficult to find, although the 1895 stamp tends to have better centering than the unwatermarked 1894 stamp.
Approximately 100 unperforated examples of U.S. #277 are believed to exist.
America Declares War On Great Britain
Just 29 years after gaining independence, the United States took on the greatest naval power in the world by declaring war on June 18, 1812, in what would become America’s “Second War of Independence.”
Great Britain was embroiled in a lengthy and bitter war with France as the 19th century dawned. Both countries blocked the United States from trading with the other, hoping to deprive their enemy of badly needed supplies.
In 1807, Great Britain passed an act requiring all neutral countries to obtain a license from its officials before trading with France or its colonies. At the same time, American sailors were being kidnapped off U.S. merchant ships and forced to serve on British vessels. In a ten-year period before the hostilities began, approximately 10,000 U.S. sailors were impressed into service in this manner.
Britain and France were also guilty of plundering U.S. merchant ships for supplies to wage war against each other. President Thomas Jefferson enacted the Embargo Act of 1807 in response, but the restrictions hurt American trade more than it did Britain or France.
Congress repealed the act in 1809, replacing it with a bill sought to encourage either of the nations to ease sanctions against the U.S. In the event one of the nations removed the trade restrictions, the bill would have allowed for the U.S. to block trade with the other. Napoleon indicated France would stop the restrictions, prompting President James Madison to stop all commerce with Britain.
In addition to the trade embargo and matter of impressment, Britain was seen as an ally of Native Americans opposed to America’s expansion in the West. Many members of Congress, led by John Calhoun and Henry Clay, called for war against Britain.
In November of 1811, William H. Harrison led troops into Indiana Territory to destroy a confederacy of Native Americans led by Tecumseh. As territorial governor, Harrison had encouraged new settlers to the territory in the hopes statehood would be granted. Tecumseh’s confederacy harassed settlers and other Native American leaders who negotiated with them.
Harrison’s troops defeated Tecumseh’s at the Battle of Tippecanoe. The defeat confirmed Tecumseh’s belief that he needed support from Britain to stop the settlers from encroaching farther into Northwest Territory. During this time, hawkish members of Congress were pressuring President Madison to strike against Britain. On June 18, 1812, Madison signed the declaration of war on Great Britain, Ireland, and their territories, notably Canada.
In 1812, Canada was a British colony. Canada’s shared border with the U.S. made it an efficient way to strike a blow to Britain. In what became a series of follies, William Hull, an Indian agent and territorial governor of Michigan, took inexperienced troops across the border into Upper Canada (modern Ontario). There they faced well-trained forces led by Sir Isaac Brock, whose men had been preparing for attack. Tecumseh and his warriors had joined the British, hoping to fend off the Americans.
The armies met on August 16, 1812, with the U.S. suffering a humiliating defeat. Brock and Tecumseh’s men turned the Americans away and pursued them across the border, where Hull surrendered Detroit without a fight.
Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry won a strategic victory at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, putting the Northwest Territory under U.S. control again. This enabled William Harrison to retake Detroit in the Battle of the Thames, which ended with the death of Tecumseh. The U.S. Navy was also able to defeat the Royal Navy in several key battles.
Britain defeated France in 1814, allowing it to focus all resources and manpower solely on war with the United States. With a fresh supply of troops, the British were able to move up Chesapeake Bay and attack Washington, D.C., on August 24, 1814. Several government buildings were burned, including the Capitol and White House.
A few weeks later, the British Navy bombarded Baltimore’s Fort McHenry for 25 hours. As the new day dawned, the defenders hoisted an enormous American flag to show the fort had withstood the attack. The sight of the flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Great Britain’s land troops, who had simultaneously moved to strike Baltimore during the naval onslaught, were also repulsed and their leader killed. Defeated, the British withdrew and prepared to invade New Orleans.
Although the nation’s military prepared for more battle, the defeat at Baltimore convinced British commissioners to meet with U.S. representatives in the Flemish city of Ghent to negotiate for peace. The U.S. agreed to end its demands to stop impressment, while the British promised to discontinue the creation of an Indian state in the Northwest and leave the Canadian border unchanged. The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814.
Unaware peace had been agreed upon, British troops mounted an assault on the vital port city of New Orleans. Led by Major General Andrew Jackson, American troops prevented the invasion and saved both the city and the vast territory the U.S. had gained with the Louisiana Purchase.
Although the War of 1812 failed to achieve its original goals, victory at the Battle of New Orleans increased morale in the U.S. The young nation had defeated the world’s mightiest empire, with the crowning victory over the illustrious Royal Navy. The “Era of Good Feelings” was ushered in as Americans felt a sense of unity and pride. In turn, this mood of self-confidence and purpose helped fuel the period of American expansionism that would define most of the 19th century.
Why Watermarks Were Added in 1895
The United States printed stamps on watermarked paper from 1895 to 1915. The watermarks, consisting of the letters “USPS” (for United States Postal Service), were faint patterns impressed into the paper during its manufacture. Often only a single letter or a portion of a letter is found on a single stamp.
Since the special watermark paper may already have been ordered at the time of the “Chicago Counterfeits,” the Postal Department may have anticipated the possibility before it actually happened. Other nations had used watermarking earlier.
The “USPS” watermarks are in single line or double line letters. To see a watermark, put the stamp in a watermark tray and add a few drops of watermark fluid. The mark (or part of it) should show clearly, though it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between single and double line watermarks.
The Chicago Counterfeits
The “Chicago Counterfeits,” as the scandal came to be known, was one of the few counterfeits in the history of U.S. postage stamps. The Post Office Department was made aware of the matter when Edward Lowry contacted Postal Inspector James Stuart. Lowry wanted to know if the Postal Department had any objection to his purchasing the 2¢ current issue at less than face value, as advertised in the Chicago Tribune. The ad read, “We have $115 U.S. two cent stamps which we cannot use here, will send them by express C.O.D. privilege of examination for $100. Canadian Novelty Supply Agency, Hamilton, Ontario, Can.” In essence, they were offering 5,750 stamps worth $115 for $100. The deal sounded suspicious to Inspector Stuart, and in cooperation with Lowry, had him send a request for the stamps.
At about the same time, Nathan Herman called the ad to the attention of U.S. Secret Service agent, Captain Thomas Porter, who joined forces with Inspector Stuart. The agents also had Herman write for a package of stamps. On April 8, 1895, the stamps, which Lowry and Herman had ordered, arrived at the Chicago office of the Wells Fargo Express Company. In addition, five other similar packages arrived, ordered by other people who had seen the ad. Interestingly enough, each of them had received the proper number of stamps. Over 40,000 stamps were confiscated that day!
Meanwhile, on April 6th, Captain Porter was notified that a Mrs. Lacy and her daughter, Tinsa McMillan, had some sort of printing operation set up in a back room of their apartment. When Porter, along with several agents and police officers, searched the apartment later that same evening, they found a copying camera, a perforating machine, copper printing plates, gummed paper, and other paraphernalia for producing stamps. Suspecting they were on the right track, he and Inspector Stuart traveled to Hamilton, Ontario, where they arrested Tinsa McMillan at the office of the Canadian Novelty Supply Company. As head of the organization, she had organized and directed the entire affair, and was sentenced to a year and a half in a reformatory.
A Mr. George Morrison was also arrested over a week later at his downtown Chicago office. A printing press was found there, but no other supplies. Apparently, the stamps were printed at his office and then shipped to Canada.
Seven months later, a Mr. Warren Thompson was arrested. The owner and editor of a magazine called Heart and Hand, he had assisted in making the stamps and was using them as postage on his periodical as a test to determine if the stamps would be discovered when passing through the mail. Thirty thousand more counterfeit stamps were confiscated, bringing the total up to over 70,000 confiscated stamps!