1901 5¢ Pan-American Commemorative
Issue Date: May 1, 1901
Quantity issued: 7,201,300
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Watermark: Double line
Color: Ultramarine 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 5¢ denomination pictures the legendary Honeymoon Bridge at Niagara Falls. At the time this photograph was taken, this was the largest single-span bridge in the entire world. Niagara Falls is shown in the background, and the Canadian and American shores appear on either side. At the time, no one could have foreseen the dramatic demise of the bridge.
The Niagara River tumbles over a series of massive waterfalls at the rate of six million cubic feet of water per minute, making it the most powerful waterfall in North America. The Honeymoon Bridge was built 500 feet north of the American Falls. The two-hinged steel arch featured a latticed rib and an 840-foot span that reached across the gorge to the top of the shorelines. It was later dismantled and moved up the river to Queenston, Ontario.
Arctic winters turn the fall’s spray and mist to spectacular ice formations. A huge ice bridge rising up to 80 feet in the air formed around the abutments of the Honeymoon Bridge. In 1899, pressure from the ice caused several steel pieces to bend. The ice was blasted away, and protective walls were built to shield the abutments from the annual onslaught of ice.
On January 25, 1938, warm wind pushed ice floes out of Lake Erie and into the Niagara River towards the bridge. Traffic across the bridge was halted as an ice jam formed on the river. At 4:20 p.m. on January 27, the ice jam fell over the falls, hitting the abutments and causing the bridge to collapse into the frozen gorge below.
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 2oth 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.