1913 5¢ Panama-Pacific Exposition Commemorative
Issue Date: January 13, 1913
City: Washington, D.C.
Quantity issued: 29,088,726
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Watermark: Single line
This 1913 commemorative stamp series was issued to publicize the upcoming 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition that was held in San Francisco. The exposition commemorated the discovery of the Pacific Ocean as well as the construction of the Panama Canal.
San Francisco was the Pacific stopover for much of the shipping that passed through the Panama Canal between the East and West coasts. The San Francisco Harbor was once the location from which most ships set sail across the Pacific bound for the Orient. Today, it’s best known as the setting of the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Panama-Pacific Commemoratives
The first of the Panama-Pacific commemoratives was issued on January 1, 1913, to publicize the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, a World’s Fair commemorating the completion of the Panama Canal and the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. The new stamps were popular with the public. However, it wasn’t long before the Post Office Department began hearing complaints that the stamp’s paper was too brittle.
In an effort to make the stamps stronger, perforating machines were altered from 12 perforations per two centimeters to 10 perforations per two centimeters. The Panama-Pacific commemoratives were among the first stamps to be reissued with the higher-gauge perforations.
U.S. #399 – one of the early perf. 12 stamps – pictures a sunrise at the world-famous Golden Gate Strait of San Francisco. This 4-mile-long waterway, which links San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean, was discovered in 1579 by Sir Francis Drake. It was named “Chrysopylae” or“Golden Gate” around 1846 by Captain John Frémont because it reminded him of a harbor in Istanbul, Turkey, named “Chrysoceras” or “Golden Horn.” Today, Golden Gate Strait is spanned by the Golden Gate Bridge – one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.
Issued When the Engraver’s Art Reigned Supreme
The best way to appreciate this stamp is through close personal examination, as it’s really a miniature masterpiece. You need to look at it closely under a magnifying glass and examine one delicate line of the engraving – imagining the engraver slowly cutting it into a flat metal plate. Then widen your vision just a little and see how the lines begin to blend together forming shadows and shapes. When you examine the entire vignette (the central portion of the design) you’ll really appreciate how the engraver captured – by painstakingly carving all those tiny individual lines – the natural beauty of sunrise on San Francisco Bay.
Many collectors consider #399 one of the most attractive stamps ever issued by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Some even consider it superior to the 5¢ Bridge at Niagara Falls stamp from the Pan-American series – in spite of the two-color printing of the latter stamp.