1901 8¢ Pan-American Commemorative
Issue Date: May 1, 1901
Quantity issued: 4,921,700
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Watermark: Double line
Color: Brown violet and black
Pictured on the 8¢ Pan-American commemorative, the canal locks at Sault Ste. Marie opened the inland water route between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Raw iron could then be transported to steel mills around the Great Lakes, thus making possible much of middle America’s industrial growth.
The Sault Ste. Marie canal and locks were completed in 1895, allowing vessels to bypass perilous rapids and ensuring that commerce from “America’s Breadbasket” reached Eastern markets. At the time, the locks were the largest in the world and the first to be operated electrically. As the U.S. and Canada had cooperated on the project, the subject choice was a gesture of goodwill to our nation’s closest neighbor and ally.
Many collectors were still trying to complete their Columbian series when the Pan-American series was contemplated. Mindful of the criticism generated by the large 16-stamp Columbian series and its high face values, officials were more conservative with the Pan-American commemoratives. Only six designs were selected, and the total face value was a moderate 30¢.
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.