1918 $2 Franklin
Issue Date: August 19, 1918
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Color: Orange red and black
The striking $2 Franklin stamp pictures the Founding Father in black with a striking orange red frame. The stamp had been requested earlier, but was delayed while the Bureau of Engraving and Printing struggled to fulfill other projects brought about by World War I. Like the $5 Franklin stamp issued simultaneously, the $2 Franklin was printed using a single plate.
The 1918 issues replaced the stamps of 1902, which were still readily available.
In November of 1920, the $2 Franklin stamp suddenly appeared with a carmine frame, causing quite a buzz among stamp collectors. Many thought they’d discovered a color error.
Postal officials denied the rumors. Upon investigation, they learned the original specifications had called for a carmine frame, and that the earlier orange red Franklin stamp (U.S. #523) was actually the error.
Because the discovery was made more than two years after U.S. #523 had been issued, collectors who’d overlooked it scrambled to get the stamp. Many, however, had served their function and been discarded.
Series of 1917-20 Stamps
Lack of funds and materials during the war caused the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to experiment with various printing methods. In addition to the rotary press, the new offset printing was tried.
In November of 1917, the first class postage rate was changed from two cents to three cents, causing the demand for the 3¢ stamp to soar. Demand for the 1¢ stamp, to use along with the 2¢ stamp, also increased. In order to keep up with the public’s requests, the Bureau was operating at full capacity.
Inability to obtain the materials from Germany to produce a quality ink resulted in the use of inferior inks. These inks, which contained grit, were abrasive and had a tendency to wear out the plates faster. The average life of a plate was 10 days. They were wearing out faster than the Bureau could make them! Besides reducing the wear and tear on the plates, offset printing was advantageous because plates for this process could be made much quicker.
One of the negative aspects of using this method, however, was a less defined and somewhat blurry image. Some designs were modified in order to achieve a better impression. Eventually, a better grade of ink was found and stamps were once again printed by the higher-quality engraving process.
Following the war, many countries had depleted their resources. Items such as food, clothing, and machinery were greatly needed, and the U.S. responded by sending shipments of supplies to the war-torn countries of France, Russia, and other nations. High-value stamps were needed to prepay postage and registry on international packages, and it was decided to release stamps with both $2 and $5 denominations. The sudden demand for these issues, however, did not allow time for new designs to be prepared. So, the designs from the 1902 series were used. Identical in color and design, the 1917 issues can be distinguished by their lack of a watermark.
In 1918, the Bureau finally found the time to prepare new designs. On August 19th, the $2 and $5 stamps were released carrying portraits of Ben Franklin. In addition to being printed horizontally, they were also printed using two colors. The changes were made so postal clerks could easily tell the difference between these stamps and the lower denominations.
The $2 stamp was approved in dark red; however, due to an error, it was first printed in orange. Unfortunately, the error was not discovered until the stamps had been printed and distributed. When the Bureau received the proper ink, the stamps were printed in the intended color and redistributed. Collectors, however, not realizing the orange version was the error, stocked up on the dark red issue. Today, this error is extremely scarce. Although the shades of green on the $5 issue vary somewhat, they are all classified as deep green.