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.
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!