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
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.