1929 Kansas-Nebraska Overprints
Issued: May 1, 1929
First City: Beatrice, NE; Hartington, NE
Quantity Issued: 1,600,000
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforation: 11 x 10.5
Color: Yellow brown
Birth Of Martha Washington
America’s first First Lady was born Martha Dandridge on June 2, 1731 (by the Old Style calendar), on her parents’ Chestnut Grove Plantation near Williamsburg, Virginia.
The oldest daughter of planter John Dandridge and his wife Frances Jones, Martha had a privileged childhood. She enjoyed riding horses, gardening, sewing, playing the spinet piano, and dancing. She also received an education in basic mathematics, reading, and writing – an uncommon practice for girls of the time. She may have been educated by family servant Thomas Leonard in plantation management, crop sales, alternative medicine, and breeding and raising livestock.
When Martha was 18, she met and married Daniel Parke Custis, a wealthy plantation owner who was about 20 years older than her. The couple lived at Custis’ White House Plantation on the Pamunkey River. Custis showered Martha with the finest clothes and lavish gifts imported from England. Martha gave birth to four children, two (Daniel and Frances) who died in childhood, and two (John and Martha) who died before the age of 30. In 1757, Custis died, leaving Martha the wealthiest widow in the region, and in full charge of the 17,000-acre plantation.
After her first husband’s death, Martha met Colonel George Washington. The two were married on January 6, 1759. After the marriage, Washington left the colonial arm of the British military and settled with Martha at his expanded Mount Vernon estate. They spared no expense in caring for their home and Martha’s two children.
In 1775, Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, leaving Martha and the children at home. That winter, the family traveled two weeks to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to spend Christmas with him, and Martha stayed until June of the following year. Throughout the American Revolutionary War, Martha often traveled great distances to visit her husband in the field, raising morale by entertaining officers and their wives. She encouraged other women to assist in any way possible.
Martha organized sick wards and women’s sewing circles, convincing society ladies to use whatever they had – including fine napkins and tablecloths – to repair clothing and make bandages for the troops. Leaving the comforts of home to assist the troops during the cold winters, Martha was soon well known throughout the colonies for her graciousness. It was during this time, in 1781, that Martha’s son John (Jack) Parke Custis died from camp fever. Following Jack’s death, Martha and George raised Jack’s children, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, who later became the father-in-law of Confederate Army general Robert E. Lee.
In 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States. It wasn’t until years later that the wife of the president received an official title, so Martha was referred to as “Lady Washington,” instead of First Lady. Initially, Martha was unhappy with her husband’s position – she longed for a private life, away from the attention of a nation. Despite this, she stood by her husband, fulfilling and exceeding the duties set before her.
Martha Washington was most known for being a gracious and hospitable hostess, bringing the tact and discretion of 58 years of high-class Virginia society to her position. Mimicking the customs of European royal courts, Martha presented her nation as a legitimate democracy to world leaders. She entertained guests at least twice a week, taking little satisfaction in “formal compliments and empty ceremonies [and] fond of only what comes from the heart.” Future First Lady Abigail Adams described Martha as “one of those unassuming characters which create Love and Esteem.”
Lady Washington also showed a great interest in helping those in need. She was popular among Revolutionary War veterans, for whom she provided financial support and assisted in obtaining pardons. She also provided financial assistance and other support to Americans and Europeans alike. Many viewed her as an American heroine, sending her lavish gifts as thank you. Although she rarely spoke publicly about politics, she attended political debates, promoted education for girls, and supported women’s independence.
In Martha’s eight years as First Lady, she exemplified the ideal for future presidential wives to follow. She endured the sacrifices of her position (lack of privacy, independence, and free speech), presided over hospitable gatherings, and cared for the needy. Thrust into a new and unfamiliar position, Martha faced these hurdles and set the standard for the position that would later be known as that of the First Lady.
In March 1797, the Washingtons returned to Mount Vernon for the peaceful, private life Martha longed for. On December 14, 1799, George Washington died. Martha’s grief was slightly lessened by the birth of her great-granddaughter, Francis Parke Lewis. In her last months, Martha burned the letters she and George had once written each other, preserving their privacy. She died on May 22, 1802.
The 4¢ Nebraska stamp was overprinted on U.S. #556, picturing Martha Washington.
Gunslingers, Homesteaders, and Gangsters!
Nebraska played a key role in America’s westward expansion. Spurred by the Kansas-Nebraska Homestead Act, thousands of acres in Nebraska were claimed by settlers. Out of this rough and tumble pilgrimage came some of our nation’s most colorful characters – among them Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp.
Although frontier towns in Nebraska would turn out a number of distinguished Americans – including President Gerald Ford, Fred Astaire and Henry Fonda – the lure of the West was tempting for some criminals. By the 1920s, machine gun-toting gangsters had replaced gunslingers, and small post offices in isolated communities were among their targets. Losses in one year alone totaled more than $200,000.00 (equal to nearly $7 million today). To make it more difficult for thieves to sell stolen postage stamps, Postal Inspector Louis Johnson proposed that stamps be overprinted with the name of the specific state where they would be distributed.
The idea of overprinting U.S. stamps to prevent theft wasn’t a new one – it had been suggested nearly 30 years earlier – but the newly invented rotary press now made the idea feasible and affordable. As one of the states victimized by postage stamp theft, Nebraska was selected for the experiment. If successful, authorities planned to distribute overprinted regular stamps to each U.S. state within one year.
Issued in Very Low Quantities – Some are Hard to Find
Although it had seen rapid growth, the population of Nebraska was relatively small in 1929. Based on projected needs, postal officials distributed relatively low numbers of Nebraska overprints. In fact, less than one 9¢ stamp was issued for every two people living in the state – a total of just 530,000 stamps for a population of 1,377,963!
The Nebraska Overprints were released on April 15, 1929 – and were met with immediate criticism and confusion. Some postmasters refused to honor them, believing that the “Nebr.” overprint meant that the stamps had been precancelled. In an era when postage stamps were often used to pay for merchandise, mail order giant Montgomery Ward protested that post offices outside Nebraska refused to accept overprinted stamps.
Others argued that the program was a farce intended to save money. They pointed out that small post offices were required to purchase an entire year’s supply of stamps at once under the plan, which cut government distribution costs by more than half. Those critics claimed that the overprints were a method to discourage would-be thieves from stealing the huge stockpiles of stamps that would be stored in poorly defended small towns as a result of the cost-cutting program. In the wake of such widespread criticism, officials halted the experiment in less than a year and let the existing supply of Nebraska overprint stamps exhaust itself.
“This series...represents, if not perfection, then at least a high degree of achievement...”
To create the Nebraska Overprints, postal officials overprinted the Series of 1926-28 rotary stamps. Described above by noted philatelic author Gary Griffith, the series features a superb blend of art and technology. Officials began with the finely engraved designs of the Series of 1922, which had been printed on flat plate presses and perforated 11. The introduction of the rotary press made it possible to print the Series of 1926-28 in high volumes at low cost. A slight change in perforation – 11 x 10 1/2 – also made them easier to separate. In fact, the 1926-28 stamp series was such a success that the Bureau of Engraving and Printing used the format for another 10 years.
Classic Stamps Document American History and Invention
As you can see, a number of compelling events are represented by the Nebraska Overprints – the marriage of traditionally engraved stamps with modern technology, the settlement of America’s West and the history of the great state of Nebraska. In fact, these Nebraska overprints may have carried news of the birth of actor Marlon Brando, the exploits of gangster Al Capone or boxer Max Baer’s record of 16 wins with 12 knock outs.