Two-cent stamps of the Series of 1894-1898, or the First BureauIssue, were printed over a period of 8½ years, producing 21.7 billionstamps, using 560 sheet plates and 20 booklet plates.For me, the First Bureau Issue’s two-cent stamp may well have beenmy first recognition that face-similar stamps exist as differentcollectable types. Not only did some stamps have “triangle”ornaments in the upper corners while others did not, but also therewere differences to be found in the triangles.
Until a decade ago, the catalogues that we use listed three types forthese stamps as determined by the design of the triangularornaments. Diagrams like these have appeared in catalogues formany years, and they are still accurate to the extent that they depictthe differences introduced into the triangles. The Mid-ContinentLibrary has a 1922 Scott catalogue, and it has such diagrams.I still remember my delight as a child when I was able to identify myone-and-only two-cent-triangle stamp as a Type III, and my equaldisappointment when I discovered that it was the most common type.
When I resumed my stamp interest three years ago, and acquired athen-current Harris catalog, I discovered that, not three, but four typeswere associated with the listings for the First Bureau Issue. This wasnews to me. When did I miss this change?
All of the major catalogue numbers were the same as I had knownbefore.There are other overprinted and/or surcharged stamps for Cuba,Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Revenue issues, but beforethe overprinting was added, each of them would have been either a267 or a 279B.
And the entries for the First Bureau Issue were still divided into threesubgroups:1 – Stamps printed on Unwatermarked paper
2 – Stamps printed on Watermarked paper 3 – And, color changes made to conform to the Universal PostalUnion guidelines (circled).But, rather than being merely a dubious, after-thought addition to theUPU color-change group, catalogue number 279B was now listed asa separate type – Type IV. But, the Harris Catalog was devoid of anyfurther explanation.Years ago, I had acquired some stamps identified by the seller as279B’s, but I had never been overly confident that the identificationwas correct since, at that time, it was based, solely, on the colordifference.Now, I had to know more about this Type IV
I started with a review of some APS magazines I had accumulatedwhile my collection was resting on the shelf, but before I let my APSmembership lapse.At first glance, I thought that this one, from 1991, might hold anexplanation of the Type IV.
But, it was still consistent with the long-held notion that there wereonly three types of the First Bureau two-cent stamp.In the cover article, Robert Picirilli wrote that the only differencebetween a 267 and a 279B was the color.At this point I thought that I would need to find something more recentthan 1991 to obtain my answers.
Consulting the Scott Specialized Catalogue at the Johnson CountyLibrary did shed some light on my query.The diagram shown here had been added to describe thedistinguishing features of the Type IV stamps. And, the diagrams ofthe ornaments had new identities. Doubtless, this results from the factthat Type III and Type IV stamps share the same style of thetriangular ornaments.I would later find that these changes first appeared in the 1999 ScottU.S. Specialized Catalogue – published more than 100 years afterthe stamps were printed.Studying the references provided by the Scott Catalogue would proveeven more enlightening.
To fully appreciate the significance of this listing, I was given tofurther my knowledge of the four types and their origins, beginningwith this definition that Mr. Brett provided when he was making hiscase for recognition of the Type IV.The definition may be a bit all-encompassing since it could beinterpreted to include differences that would be better described asplate varieties (specific to a single plate) or production varieties(specific to a single printed sheet). But, it does point towarddiscovering the sources of the differences.To discuss the sources of design differences on intaglio printedstamps like the First Bureau Issue requires at least a cursory reviewof the plate production process.
First, the engravers (usually a team of three for vignette, frame, andlettering) prepare a die on which the design elements are cut into asoftened steel plate in reverse of the image to be printed. Followingapproval of a proof printed from the die, the work passes to thesiderographers.After the die is hardened, a softened steel roll is pressed into the dieone or more times to pick up the design.The resulting subject on the transfer roll appears in relief, like thefinished stamp, in that the design elements to be printed are raisedabove the surface, like the ink on the stamp.After any needed cleanup, the transfer roll is hardened and thenpressed, repeatedly, into the printing plate to produce the requirednumber of subjects for the sheet layout. In this case, 400 per sheet.
However, when these stamps were made, the equipment used forproducing the transfer rolls and the printing plates looked much likethe press shown in this patent illustration. Mechanical advantageprovided the force necessary to press the transfer roll into the die topick up the subject and, subsequently, into the plate to lay down thesubject.
In 1937, Hugh Southgate, then President of the Bureau IssuesAssociation, published his research on the dies created for theproduction of the First Bureau Issue two-cent stamps. Theinformation had been gleaned from an extensive review of Bureau ofEngraving and Printing production records.Of particular note is that, while 33 transfer rolls were produced fromDie number 79, the Type II die, only six Type II plates were prepared.And
That 207 Type III plates were produced prior to the creation of Dienumber 83, believed at the time to be “the” Type III die. (Of furtherinterest is the fact that one of the six Type II plates was only partiallyType II subjects while the remainder were Type III.)The Type III design must have been created by modification of thetransfer roll reliefs from the Type II die.Mr. Southgate ended his article by issuing a challenge to any sharpeyed philatelists to discern whether or not there existed anyidentifiable differences between stamps produced from the twosources of Type III stamps.
George W. Brett took on that challenge and, working with Mr.Southgate, discovered two major and fifteen minor differencesbetween stamps produced using modified transfer rolls from Die 79and stamps made from Die 83.They published their results identifying Type IV in 1955, but anyonewho was not a member of the Bureau Issues Association (now knownas the United States Stamp Society) probably paid little attention totheir work.It was not until Mr. Brett published an update in 1993 and KennethDiehl published an extensive review of the First Bureau Issue twocent stamps in a 23-part article from December, 1994, throughAugust, 1997, that their work was recognized by Scott Publishing andshared with the larger philatelic community.Armed with their scholarly work, we can trace the genesis of the fourtypes.
It begins with the two-cent of the Small Bank Note Series producedby the American Bank Note Company. When the Post OfficeDepartment contract was passed to the Bureau of Engraving andPrinting, all dies, transfer rolls, plates, and stocks of stamps weretransferred from the American Bank Note Company to the Bureau.The Bank Note two-cent stamps have two features—some might callthem flaws—that figured prominently in the study of the Bureau’stypes.A very heavy line in the hair—often referred to as the “Gash inForehead” and a dot in the center of the ‘S’ of “Cents.” possibly alayout mark for the lettering.
The Bureau did not have enough time to prepare new designs tomeet postal needs, so the bank note designs were used with thetriangular ornaments added to distinguish the Bureau-producedstamps.The Type I triangles are usually described as having the backgroundlines continuing through the triangles at a constant weight. A betterdescription might be that the triangles go through the backgroundlines because the original American Bank Note Company die wasgiven a new identity as Bureau die number 35. After annealing, thetriangles were engraved over the existing background lines.The first confirmation of that fact is that the “Gash in Forehead” andthe “Dot in S” appear on all the Type I stamps as well.Type I stamps are about 6% of the total production.
Confirmation comes from the American Bank Note Company imprintthat remained on the die after the triangles were added. The imprintcan be seen here on a die essay printed from Bureau Die 35.
The Type II stamp came from the creation of a new die, number 79.The die was started with a light lay-down from a Type I transfer roll.When the engraver strengthened the background lines, only theportions of the lines outside of the triangles were strengthened. Thelines inside the triangles were left at the lighter weight created by thelay-down. Lack of strengthening was also the case for the “Gash inForehead,” effectively removing that feature from the design.The “Dot in S” does appear on the Type II die, but it does not appearon any Type II stamps. The tiny protrusion that formed the dot wasburnished off of the transfer rolls used to make the Type II plates.Type II stamps are about 1% of the total production.
The Type III stamps resulted from a continuation in the progression ofdesign cleanups performed on transfer rolls taken from die number79. The light background lines between the inner and outer trianglesof the ornaments were burnished out, leaving a clear border aroundthe inner triangle. Any of the Die 79 transfer rolls not thus processed,would simply produce more Type II impressions.While this process was being performed, the previously instructedremoval of the “Dot in S” was overlooked on some of the rolls,creating yet another listed variety.Type III stamps are about 36% of the total production.
The Type IV stamp came from the creation of another new die,number 83. The die was started with a lay-down from a Type IIItransfer roll – one without the “Dot in S.” When the engraversstrengthened the lines of the design, two key differences, a line inWashington’s hair and shading of the toga button, were generatedthat distinguish the Type IV stamps from their Type III predecessors.Several other minor differences have also been identified, but theyare more subjective and, therefore, less reliable means ofidentification.Type IV stamps are about 57% of the total production.
As far as finding a reference for differentiating Type III and Type IVstamps, I like the guide provided by the 1847USA web site.
Thanks to Joe Kenton’s generous donation of philatelic literature,most of these references can be found at the Red Bridge branch ofthe Mid-Continent Library. The 1955 article by Brett and Southgateand the 23rd part of the series by Diehl are missing from thecollection. If any of you have those journals and would be willing toloan them, I would be grateful to be able to read them.