1918 $5 Franklin
Issue Date: August 1918
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Method: Flat plate
Color: Deep green and black
Early in 1917, the Post Office was caught off guard by a sudden huge demand for high-value stamps. At that time, Americans were sending many shipments of machine parts to Russia by Parcel Post. Also, valuable shipments of Liberty Bonds required large amounts of postage.
To meet demand, the 1918 $5 Franklin stamp was issued. The bi-color stamp features a deep green frame and black central design on unwatermarked paper. The perforation gauge had been changed to 11 the previous year, which defines this sixth major set in the Washington-Franklins. A $2 Franklin stamp (U.S. #523) was also issued to meet the sudden demand for high-value stamps. The denominations were nearly identical in design, with different colors to help postal clerks tell them apart.
Because of its high face value and postal use, U.S. #524 has always been desirable. In “United States Postage Stamps 1902-1935,” philatelic author and legendary stamp expert Max Johl advised, “Only a limited number were issued and collectors would do well to buy their copies... as soon as possible, as this stamp will soon be among those ‘hard to get.’ ”
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 method 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 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 could be made much quicker.
One of the negatives of 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 in the East – such as France and Russia. 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 only 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 Benjamin 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 initially 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.