History of US postage stamps

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Knowing that the US postal service produces quite a number of postage stamps a year, it is expected that most famous postage stamp collectors and enthusiast are from the United States. The United States postage stamps have contributed a lot to postal history.

It is said that US postage stamp collecting became widespread during the 1920s. Over the years several notable US stamps were produced that could bring a fortune and not a mention a sense of patriotism for dedicated stamp collectors.

The United States Postal Service as we know was created under Benjamin Franklin, in Philadelphia July of the year 1776. It was in 1692 that King William and Queen Mary sent a grant with exclusive rights for English nobleman, Thomas Neal to set up and run an office solely for receiving, sending and delivering letters.

Postage stamps prices or rates at that time were high and colonist saw it as another form of taxation so, the British Stamp Act of America in 1765 placed a formal tax on all kinds of official documents which sparked the American Revolution and in turn paved the way for the production of United States postage stamps.

It was in 1840 that a certain Alexander M. Greig established a City Dispatch Post and later on sold it to the U.S government. It was renamed as the United States City Dispatch Post, run under the Act of Congress. The 1845 Act of Congress not only reduced but also established uniform postal rates throughout the nation.

The production of US postal stamps was not authorized until the year 1847; as a result provisional issues were made. When the congress finally provided for the issuance of United States stamps in 1847, the first issue of US stamps consisted, the 5-cent red brown postage stamp which depicts Benjamin Franklin and a black 10-cent value with George Washington on it.

In 1857 Perforations were introduced. Stamps with perforations were issued for the first time using more images of Franklin and Washington.

The postal system was in a bad state due to the occurrence of the American Civil War. On April 1861, the post-master general of the confederate states of America at the time who was John H. Reagan ordered for the return of US postage stamps to Washington DC from all local postmasters; however it was on the following month that the “Union” decided to invalidate all existing US postal stamps and issue new ones.

Eventually the confederate government finally issued the new stamps. In the year 1861, the postage stamps had common letters of “U S” in their design. In 1863, a 2cent black stamp was issued with the image of Andrew Jackson, which is now called by stamp collectors as the “Black Jack”. In 1866 a 15cent black stamp with Abraham Lincoln was issued, which is considered by philatelist as the first ever memorial stamp.

In the 1860s, postal authorities were concerned on postage stamp reuse, because inks used at the time can be easily washed. In an attempt to solve the problem, the “Grills” were adopted. The use of grills started some time around 1867 until 1871. The issued United States stamps “1cent Z-grill” is considered as one of the rarities in the US postal history.

In 1869 new designs came out printed by the National Bank Note Company, some of which are the 2cent stamp with the “Pony Express Rider”, the 3cent with a “locomotive”, the 24cent stamp which depicted the “signing of the Declaration of Independence” and a lot more.

After the year 1869 the current post-master general at the time decided to produce a series of stamps based on the “heads” of distinguished deceased Americans. The stamps produced in 1870s and 1880s are collectively known as “Bank Notes”.

In 1893 the “Columbian Issue” was produced in order to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in America; this was done during the World Columbian Exposition and considered to be the first “Commemorative Stamps” of America. It was in the same year, that the printing of stamps on watermarked paper was done for the first time in US history by the “Bureau of Engraving and Printing”.

The Washington-Franklin era started in 1908, were the basic stamp designs only had profiles of Washington and Franklin. Several variations of these stamps were produced, half dozen perforations, three types of watermarks, three printing methods and a large numbers of values.

In 1938 the famous “Presidential Issue” also known as “Prexies” came about, which featured all 29 U.S. presidents.

After World War 2 the “Liberty Issue” of 1954, the “Prominent American Series” of the 1960s and the “Americana Series” of the 1970s were produced. It was in 1971 that the reorganization of the Post Office took place and became the “United States Postal Service” which continued the production of USPS stamps.

- Mrs. Nagalakshmi Tadakaluri, Philatelist.

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