1932 2¢ Washington
Washington Bicentennial Issue
Issue Date: January 1, 1932
First City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 4,222,198,300
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforation: 11 x 10.5
Color: Carmine rose
U.S. #707 features an image of George Washington taken from a painting by Gilbert Stuart. Stuart, a master portrait artist, made numerous paintings of Washington, with this one being the most famous. Called The Athenaeum, it was painted in 1796 in Germantown, Pennsylvania – but never finished. However, it served as the model of other paintings, and was also used on the one-dollar bill.
Gilbert Stuart – Portrait Artist
Gilbert Stuart was just 19 years old in 1775, when he traveled to England to study art. He had already proven himself to be a promising portrait painter, and the American Revolution threatened to disrupt his progress. Stuart became a successful artist and one of the best-known painters in Europe. But it wasn’t until 1793, when he returned to the United States, that he truly made his mark.
After moving around a bit, Stuart opened a studio in Philadelphia in 1793. It was there he painted a series of portraits of President George Washington. Stuart, with help from his daughters, made 130 portraits of Washington in all, but he never finished the most famous one – called “The Athenaeum.”
The painting shows Washington from the shoulders up, with no background and only one third of the canvas painted. But it was from this original that Stuart and his daughters based future portraits of Washington. More importantly, this portrait provided the image that is used on the one-dollar bill.
Washington Bicentennial Issue
The Post Office officially announced their plans for a set of stamps honoring Washington’s 200th birthday in November 1930. Early on, they had grand ideas for the set.
At one point, the set was to consist of at least 18 stamps with all values between ½¢ and $5. Prior to that, the largest set issued was the Columbians, which had comprised 16 stamps. The Post Office also considered using the same wide format of the Columbians for the Washington Bicentennials.
The plan was to create two-color stamps with grand scenes retelling Washington’s life – crossing the Delaware, his 1793 inauguration, his home life, his birthplace, resigning his commission, a double portrait with his wife Martha, his tomb at Mount Vernon, and the Washington Monument. However, the Post Office eventually decided against the plan because they would have to use famous paintings that were known to be filled with inaccuracies.
At one point, Congress considered a bill that proposed that all the stamps issued in 1932 bear Washington’s portrait, but that bill was never passed. In the end, the Post Office decided to produce a set of 12 single color stamps picturing portraits by famous artists that showed Washington at different times in his life.
As a result, several of the stamps pictured unfamiliar images of Washington. But the Post Office specifically selected the famed and beloved Gilbert Stuart Athenaeum portrait for the 2¢ stamp. At the time, 2¢ was the normal first-class letter rate, so that would have been the most used stamp at the time. However, a few months after the series was issued, the first-class letter rate was raised to 3¢.
The Post Office conducted an emergency reprinting of the 3¢ Washington Bicentennial stamp as well as the current 3¢ Lincoln regular issue. But there still weren’t enough of the stamps to satisfy demand. And the Post Office knew that the portrait on the 3¢ stamp was little known to most people. So they decided to rework the 2¢ Athenaeum design. They made it a 3¢ stamp and removed the date ribbons next to the portrait, so it would essentially be a regular issue.