Own America’s First Two Postage Stamps
Now’s your chance to own two important pieces of our postal history – America’s first two postage stamps. They honor two of America’s most famous figures, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. As America’s first postmaster, Franklin received the honor of appearing on our first postage stamp, while our first president was honored on the second.
The Story Behind America’s First Postage Stamps
In the 1840s, United States postal authorities were carefully watching the world’s reaction to Great Britain’s Penny Black, the first adhesive postage stamp. An adhesive stamp was being considered for use in the U.S. When Robert H. Morris, postmaster of New York, proposed issuing a provisional stamp, there were no objections.
Morris assumed the printing cost, and in 1845, the first U.S. postmaster’s provisional was issued. Other postmasters followed suit, providing their own distinct stamps for pre-payment of mail.
Two years later, the U.S. Post Office Department tried its own government-issued stamp. Rates were determined by the weight and distance the letter was being mailed. Letters mailed a distance of 300 miles or less were 5¢ per half ounce, while those mailed over 300 miles were 10¢ per half ounce. The sender could pay postage at the time the letter was mailed, or by the addressee upon receipt.
When the sender paid postage, the letter was marked “paid” by pen and ink or hand stamped. If no such cancel was evident, the person receiving the letter paid the postage. Inspections for accuracy and records of postal revenues were virtually impossible. With pre-printed stamps, accurate records could be kept of how many were issued and sold. It wasn’t until 1855 that the use of postage stamps became mandatory.
A contract was awarded to a firm of bank note engravers for the printing of the 5¢ and 10¢ stamps. The stamps were to be available in major post offices on July 1, 1847. Due to delays in production, only one office, New York City, received the stamps on that date. The stamps were produced until 1851.