Series of 1857-61 90¢ Washington
Earliest Known Use: September 11, 1860
Quantity issued: 25,000 (estimate)
Printed by: Toppan, Carpenter & Co.
Printing Method: Flat plate
The 1857-61 issues were the first perforated U.S. stamps. Their designs were reproduced from the imperforate plates of 1851. However, the 90¢ stamp of this series was a new denomination. The portrait of Washington, in the dress uniform of a general, is engraved after a portrait by Trumbull. It is considered by many to be the most handsome of the classic stamps and was ranked #10 in 100 Greatest American Stamps.
The 90¢ Washington stamp satisfied the rate of 20¢ per half ounce for letters and packages sent over 2,500 miles to foreign countries. It was the highest-denominated stamp to date. The cost far exceeded $140 in today’s wages, so few were printed and most collectors of the day were unable to acquire it.
U.S. #39 was issued in late 1860, as Lincoln’s inauguration loomed and tensions grew between the North and South. After several Southern states seceded, the federal government announced it would suspend postal service to the new Confederate States of America. Then-current U.S. postage stamps were rendered invalid, including the newly-issued 90¢ Washington stamp. Unsold inventories were returned to the U.S. Post Office and destroyed.
Because they were in use for a very brief period, genuine used examples of U.S. #39 are much rarer than mint stamps and have a higher market value.