This series is an extreme example of officials deliberately using postage stamps as learning tools. Included within the ornate frames of each stamp are symbols relating to the honored American’s legacy, along with biographical information about him or her. These design details were added to help new immigrants learn American history easily – an important lesson carried throughout the mail system, costing only pennies apiece.
The ornate new designs, however, were not the only addition to the 1902 series. The 13-cent denomination was added, and two new faces were introduced – Benjamin Harrison and Admiral David Farragut. For the first time in postal history, an American woman was honored.
A slight change was also made in the format. Each stamp in this series bears the inscription, “Series 1902.” This caused some concern abroad, as many European philatelists wondered whether the U.S. was planning on issuing new stamps each year. Many of the stamps, however, did not even reach post offices until 1903, and the next general issues were not produced until 1908. Imperforate 1¢, 2¢ and 5¢ stamps were also issued.
Issued in January 1903, the 2¢ Washington (US #301) was severely criticized by the public. Printed in black ink on India paper, the proofs of this stamp were crisp and clear. After seeing these samples, a New York newspaper stated it was “the finest stamp ever produced.” However, when the actual stamp was printed on the softer stamp paper in red ink, the result was not as beautiful as anticipated. Many felt the overall design was poor, the portrait didn’t resemble Washington, and the stamp appeared too crowded.
Less than two months later, the Postmaster General decided to replace it with a newly designed stamp. Known as the “two-cent revised design,” the US #319 stamp was released later that year featuring Washington framed by a modified U.S. shield. The new design, which went to the opposite extreme, was applauded by the public. Today, it is considered by collectors to be the least artistic of the series.
Like the 1¢ imperforate stamp, U.S. #320 was issued for the use of manufacturers of private vending machines. It was first issued in Chicago, leaving New York dealers unaware of its existence for a short time. This led to one of the most interesting stamp stories of the era.
The Imperforate Stamps of 1906-08
When the 1¢ Franklin and 2¢ Washington were first issued imperforate, a scheming young man took advantage of the situation. At the time the stamps were first released, they were available only in Chicago. Seizing the opportunity to “make a quick buck,” he told New York dealers that, according to a friend who worked for the Postal Department, these sheets were an error and only a few had gotten out. Eager to own a rare and valuable error, the dealers snatched up the sheets for $10 to $25 apiece!
When the sheets came out in New York a few days later, they knew they’d “been had.” The sheets, containing 100 stamps, sold for a mere $2. One dealer sold his copies for $2.00 a block, with the statement, “it might be a scarce item or perhaps become a regular issue.”
In 1908, an imperforate 5¢ Lincoln was issued. Both stamps were issued imperforate to be used in the newly developed vending machines, which required special perforations. Private manufacturers of the machines would purchase the imperforate stamps and then apply their own perforations.