Did you know Mystic now owns the only surviving printing press used to produce the first Confederate postage stamps? It’s true – and we love having this direct connection to the Civil War displayed in our headquarters. Let me tell you the story of the press’ 150-year journey from the heart of Dixie to rural upstate New York…
Civil War Erupts – National Postal System Severed
Although the Civil War began with the firing upon Fort Sumter in April 1861, the federal government continued postal service to the southern states until June 1 of that year.
The South had already begun plans to start its own postal service. John Henninger Reagan, who resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives when the war began, was appointed to serve as the Confederate Postmaster General. Reagan was a skilled executive – under his leadership, the agency actually made a profit.
One of Reagan’s first challenges was finding a printing company that could produce postage stamps. He immediately ran ads in both the North and South asking for bids. But the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April made it clear the job would have to go to a firm in the South. Otherwise, Confederate stamps could easily fall into Union hands. Unfortunately for Reagan, he didn’t have a lot of good companies to choose from within the Confederacy.
Hoyer & Ludwig
Hoyer & Ludwig were German immigrants who settled in Richmond in the 1840s. Hoyer was a goldsmith and the money behind the operation. Ludwig was a skilled master of his art, able to draw his own designs and do his own printing.
Although they were inexperienced with stamp production and ill-equipped, Hoyer & Ludwig were chosen to print the first Confederate stamps. The hand-press known as No. 3 (pictured above) was used to print the stamps using a process known as lithography.
A lithographic stone was placed on the bed of the printer, moistened with water, inked, and covered with paper. The stone was then run through the press and past a blade, which pressed the stamp images onto the paper.
August Dietz, who is considered the “Father of Confederate Philately,” wrote that this process was time consuming. According to Dietz, only 200-480 sheets of stamps could be printed each day.
During the time it held the contract, Hoyer & Ludwig produced the first five Confederate stamps using three different designs – CSA #1-5.
August Dietz (1869-1963) was born in Prussia and moved to Richmond as a toddler. He reportedly began collecting stamps as early as 1880 – around the same time he became apprenticed with Hoyer & Ludwig. He eventually combined his love of stamps and his technical knowledge of printing methods into a career, becoming one of the world’s foremost experts on Confederate stamps.
Dietz was acquainted with many Confederate postmasters and printers involved with producing stamps for the South. His work preserved those first-hand accounts and made them available for other collectors. At the age of 25, he became editor of the Virginia Philatelist, a monthly stamp magazine. Eventually, Dietz published The Postal Service of the Confederate States, which is considered the ultimate authority on the subject.
Dietz Acquires No. 3
Hoyer & Ludwig went out of business at the end of the Civil War, selling out to Simons & Keiningham, who later sold its equipment to A. Hoen & Company. (Hoen had introduced lithography in the U.S.) After a fire destroyed their headquarters, Hudson P. Hoen gave the old No. 3 press to Dietz.
No. 3 remained in his family long after August’s 1963 death and was displayed at the Dietz Printing Company for several years. It was also loaned to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, VAPEX 1975 and the APS StampShow in Richmond.
The lithographic stones made for display with No. 3 include a Confederate money stone with four different denomination impressions and a Confederate stamp stone.
More than a century after Dietz acquired No. 3, his heirs offered the press at auction. Mystic President Don Sundman purchased the 1,000-pound cast iron press along with four lithographic stones made by Dietz. It now holds a place of honor at Mystic Stamp Company’s Camden, New York, headquarters.