The 1869 Pictorials were historic. They were the first U.S. stamps to feature something other than the bust or head of a famous American leader. They were also the first bi-color stamps.
As precursors of today’s commemorative stamps, the Pictorials were revolutionary for their time. Never before had stamps featured paintings, horses and locomotives. Never before had stamps attempted such artistic creativity… yet Americans rejected them as frivolous and inappropriate! Today, the Pictorials are among the most desirable of all U.S. issues.
Some of the Pictorials are also extremely scarce. That’s partially because they were printed in limited quantity, but also because the stamps were withdrawn from sale within a year of their release due to their unpopularity.
The rarest of all Pictorial stamps are the inverts, which resulted from the bi-color printing process. The Pictorial Inverts are visually striking and routinely command high sale prices when they come up for auction.
US #112 satisfied the local rate plus the rate for unsealed circulars. It was also combined with other stamps to make up a higher rate.
US #113 paid the local or drop letter rate and was also used on unsealed circulars. Often it was used with other stamps to satisfy a higher rate. At the time it was issued, the Pony Express Rider stamp was severely criticized for its design. The horse appears to be leaping rather than galloping. (Some say the horse’s position is nearly impossible.) However, it captures our nation’s infatuation with the romance of the Pony Express.
US #114 is the 3¢ issue, which satisfied the first class domestic letter rate and saw more use than any of the other Pictorial stamps.
The 6¢ Washington stamp (US #115) paid the double rate on U.S. domestic letters as well as the rate to Canada, Great Britain and other foreign countries.
US #116 paid the rate to France, Germany and other foreign destinations.
US #117 was primarily used on mail sent to England from January 1868 to January 1870, when the rate was 12¢.
The 15¢ denomination of US #118 and #119 primarily paid the rate to France and other European countries. It also satisfied the domestic registry fee. The difference between US #118 – the Type I stamp – and the Type II #119 is an additional line was cut in the frame around the vignette. US #118 is also more than 10 times scarcer than #119.
US #120 paid multiple weight rates and was also used as a make up stamp. One of the finest examples of engraving, the center of the stamp is a miniature masterpiece. James Smillie engraved 42 persons, and the six principal figures can be recognized under a magnifying glass!
Ranked #7 in 100 Greatest American Stamps, the 30¢ Shield and Eagle Pictorial (US #121) was heavily criticized when it was issued. The frame of flags is printed in blue and the shield in red. The design was created so that the denomination – spelled out in red letters – flows over into the blue flag printing. Most of the Pictorial stamps had trouble with the registration of colors, and this is exaggerated on US #121 because of the oddly-placed denomination.
US #121 paid the double treaty rate to France. The only known US #122 on cover is the famous “Ice House” cover.
The Ice House cover is so known because of the recipient’s address. It was mailed in 1873, discovered in 1914, and sold in 1943. The cover was then “lost” to philatelists from 1967 to 2006 before it was offered at auction three years later.