1913 10¢ Panama-Pacific Exposition Commemorative
Issue Date: July, 1915
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.
This issue commemorates the discovery of San Francisco Bay. Many great navigators, such as Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Sir Francis Drake and Sebastián Cermeño explored the coastline near San Francisco Bay, but failed to discover this precious waterway. All failed for the same reason – the fog.
That’s why the first European explorer to see this scenic bay traveled overland. Members of an expedition led by the Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola became the first Europeans to see San Francisco Bay in 1769.
The design on this stamp captures the magical moment when the expedition reached the peak of one of the hills surrounding the bay and beheld its breathtaking beauty. The design is taken from a painting by Charles F. Mathews. In the end, three different 10¢ stamps would bear this design. U.S. #404 was the last of the three Discovery of San Francisco Bay stamps. Many collectors, having already acquired the first two, simply overlooked U.S. #404.
How two common postal changes
led to one scarce stamp
The first Panama-Pacific commemorative series was issued in 1913, to publicize the upcoming 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, a World’s Fair commemorating the completion of the Panama Canal and 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Pacific Ocean. The new stamps were popular with the public.
Scott #400 “Discovery of San Francisco Bay” – the 10¢ Panama-Pacific stamp was the fourth stamp in the series – issued January 1, 1913. It was the first of three stamps from this series to bear the same design.
Shortly after the stamp’s issue, it was determined that its orange-yellow color was much too light – it was so weak that it destroyed the elegance of the stamp’s design. As complaints continued to mount about this color, plans were made to change it to a darker shade.
On August 25, 1913 – just over seven months after it went on sale – #400 was removed from sale and all remaining quantities were destroyed. A darker version was issued in its place, and given the number 400A. This stamp’s color was listed as orange.
Then a second problem occurred. The Postal Service received a great many complaints, particularly from high-volume mailers, that sheets perforated 12 (like #400 and #400A) were too brittle and fell apart at the slightest touch. Thus, to strengthen the sheets, perforating machines were altered to 10 perforations per two centimeters. The stamps of the Panama-Pacific Exposition were among the first to be changed to perforated 10 – which resulted in the third stamp bearing this attractive “Discovery of San Francisco Bay” design – U.S. #404.