1901 4¢ Pan-American Commemorative
Issue Date: May 1, 1901
Quantity issued: 5,737,100
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Watermark: Double line
Color: Deep red brown and black
The Pan-American stamps issue is a series of six stamps commemorating a 1901 World’s Fair held at Buffalo, New York. The Pan-American Exposition and World’s Fair was a celebration of technology and its impact on America. The expo was held from May 1 through November 1, 1901. The Pan-American commemoratives salute the marvel of the mechanical age. The stamps are so popular among modern collectors that all six denominations were selected to be included in 100 Greatest American Stamps – and each ranked in the top 50.
The 4¢ denomination features a miniature engraving of an early electric automobile used for passenger service by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The center design pictures a chauffeur driving the car along with a passenger. The passenger pictured reportedly is Samuel Hedges, a railroad representative. The U.S. Capitol Building can be seen in the background.
In 1901, the electric automobile was a symbol of American innovation. At the end of the exposition, however, it was linked to a tragic event. President William McKinley was mortally wounded by an assassin while attending the fair. In a desperate bid to save his life, McKinley was rushed for help in a Riker Electric ambulance.
The Pan-American Commemoratives –
First New Stamps of the 20th Century
The Pan-American stamps were the first bi-colored commemoratives issued by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving (plans to print the 1898 Trans-Mississippi commemoratives in bi-color were scrapped after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War). They were also the first commemorative stamps of the 20th century, and the first bi-color stamps since the 1869 Pictorials.
The bi-color Pan-Americans were printed in two steps. In the first, the vignette (center design) was printed in black ink. The frame was then printed in a second color. This process made it very difficult for the printer to align the frame evenly.
As a result, several stamps feature frames that aren’t aligned properly, and inverts were created when the sheet was mistakenly fed into the press backwards. Shortly after the series was issued, inverts were found among the 1¢ and 2¢ denominations. Reports of the discovery of 4¢ inverts reached postal officials, who reacted by deliberately creating two sheets of 200 inverted stamps each. Collectors were outraged by the intentional manipulation of the stamp market, prompting the government to abandon its plan to create 5¢, 8¢, and 10¢ inverts as well.