U.S. #331a Booklet Pane
Series of 1908-09 1¢ Franklin
Issue Date: December 1, 1908
Quantity issued: 5,300,000,000 (estimate)
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Watermark: Double line
Stung by criticism of the previous ornate stamp series, the Post Office Department looked for cleaner, simpler designs for the Series of 1908-09. However, they continued the 57-year-old tradition of using a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, taken from Houdon’s bust, as the basis of the 1¢ stamp design.
The 1¢ Franklin stamp satisfied the postcard rate and also was used in combination with other stamps on heavier letters.
Series of 1908-09
When the 1902 series was issued, the Post Office Department received numerous complaints from collectors, as well as the public, concerning the stamps’ poor designs. One particular gentleman, Charles Dalton, even wrote to his senator! He severely criticized the Stuart portrait of Washington currently in use on the 2¢ stamp and suggested the profile, taken from the bust by Jean Antoine Houdon, be put back into use.
He also recommended that this portrait be used on all U.S. issues. To support his idea, he used the example of Great Britain’s stamps, which all carried the profile portrait of King Edward VII. After careful consideration, the Postmaster General and Department officials adopted Mr. Dalton’s suggestions for the new 1908 series. The decision was made to keep Benjamin Franklin on the 1¢ stamp; however, his portrait was also to be in profile, modeled after Houdon’s bust.
A simpler and more modern-looking border design was selected to be used on all denominations. The simplicity and uniformity of the new design greatly reduced production costs and extended the life of the steel printing plates. Due to lower international rates and higher weight limits per unit, the need for the $2 and $5 stamps diminished. When the 1908 was released, these issues were discontinued.
Issued during the American Industrial Revolution, the series of 1908 was released in an age when machines were being developed to do anything man could and more. These inventions ranged from automated manufacturing plants and flying machines to the horseless carriage and slot machines. These slot or vending machines first appeared in the late 1880s to sell chewing gum on New York City train platforms. By the twentieth century, they also dispensed products such as candy, cigarettes, and souvenir postcards.
These vending machines were so successful that the companies that manufactured them were constantly seeking new items to market. Their attention was soon turned to postage stamps. Not only would this venture prove profitable for the manufacturers, it could also save a sizable amount of money of the government.
On November 24, 1905, a committee was appointed to investigate the possibility of using vending machines to see stamps. The committee was to determine whether or not this would be a worthwhile endeavor for the Postal Department to undertake. After examining the merits of these machines they reported, “...that the adoption of automatic machines for the sale of stamped paper would not, for the present, be advantageous.” The idea was abandoned until 1907.
First U.S. Stamp Books
On or around April 18, 1900, the US Post Office issued its first stamp books.
In 1884, a man named Albert W. Cooke of Boston received a patent for a “Book for Holding Stamps.” Cooke’s design was for a small book that could fit in a vest pocket that had alternating pages of stamps and paper treated with wax “so that the gummed side of the stamps shall not stick to it under the action of heat or moisture.”
It’s unknown whether or not Cooke shared his idea with the post office at the time, however it would be 16 years before they would adopt a similar idea. By early 1900, Captain P.C. Bane, a bookbinder at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) had started creating stamp booklets for his personal use. He would place blocks of stamps in between pieces of cardboard and lunch paper for convenience. He thought it was a good idea, so he shared it with the director of the BEP.
The director agreed it was a good idea and in turn shared it with the post master general. The postmaster agreed as well, and on March 26, 1900, ordered that stamp books be prepared for public use. On April 18 (some sources say April 16), the first US stamp books were placed on sale for the public. The post office offered the books in three sizes. Each book only had 2¢ stamps, but customers could choose between 12, 24, and 48 stamps in a book. The books were sold at 1¢ over the face value (so the 12-stamp book sold for 25¢, etc.)
Each book contained sheets of six stamps with paraffined paper between them to prevent sticking. The cardboard covers had domestic and foreign postage rates printed on them, as well as information about the money order and registry systems. The books proved to be very popular with the general public and several post offices sold out of their supplies on the first day they were placed on sale. In the coming months, the post office quickly perfected their system for making the books and were able to produce 20,000 per day at a cost of $3.85 per thousand.
The stamps used for the first run of books were Scott #279Bj, the red 2¢ Washington from the Universal Postal Union Colors series. In January 1903, the booklets were made with the new ornate 2¢ Washington “flag” stamp, #301c. However, the regular #301 stamp had proven unpopular and was redesigned, with a shield replacing the flags that flanked Washington’s portrait, and the book stamp #319g was issued that December.
It would be a few more years before the books would be produced with another denomination. In 1907, the postmaster general reported that there had been increasing demand for 1¢ stamps due to the rising popularity of illustrated post cards. So they used the same book format that had been previously created for the 1¢ stamps.
In late 1908, the postmaster sought to create more appealing books. He thought the current covers were plain, so the new ones were imprinted with the post office department’s official seal. The back of the books showcased the model form of an address.
Stamp booklets continued to carry a 1¢ premium until 1963. They’re still in use today, proving popular and convenient for mailers.