Series of 1898-99 10¢ Webster
Universal Postal Union Colors
Issued: November 11, 1898
Issue Quantity: 42,000,000 (estimate)
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Watermark: Double line USPS
The Type I (U.S. #282C) and Type II (U.S. #283) stamps are most easily distinguished by color. U.S. #282C is brown, while U.S. #283 is yellow or orange brown.
On Type I, the circular lines around the denomination stop before the vignette’s frame line. They continue through the frame line on Type II stamps.
Why the Series of 1898-99 Was Produced
In 1863, Lincoln’s Postmaster General Montgomery Blair suggested an international conference be held to discuss common postal problems. A conference was held in Paris, and fifteen nations attempted to establish guidelines for an international postal service. Until this time, mail had been regulated by a number of different agreements that were binding only to signing members.
Although Blair did not intend to create a permanent organization, another conference was held 11 years later in Bern, Switzerland. Twenty-two nations, comprising the International Postal congress, drafted and signed the Bern Treaty, which established the General Postal Union. Under this treaty, member nations, including Europe, Britain, and the United States, standardized postal rates and units of weight. They also set forth procedures for transporting ordinary mail. Ordinary mail included letters, postcards, and small packages. Separate rules govern the transportation of items, such as parcel post, newspapers, magazines, and money orders.
Under this agreement, known as the International Postal Convention, a simpler accounting system was devised as well. Previously, countries could vary the international rate. Any mail traveling across a country’s border was charged this rate. In addition, many countries charged a 1¢ surtax for mail being transported by sea for more than 300 miles. Using the basic idea that every letter generates a reply, the Convention allowed each country to keep the postage it collected on international mail. However, that country would then reimburse other members for transporting mail across their borders. The benefits to member nations included lower postal rates, better service, and a more efficient accounting system.
In 1878, at the second conference, the name was changed to the Universal Postal Union (UPU). It wasn’t until the 1880s that the organization became truly universal. By the 1890s, nearly every nation had become a member. In 1947, the UPU became a specialized agency of the United Nations. Today, it continues to organize and improve postal service throughout the world. It’s the oldest international organization existing and claims to be the only one that really works.
In 1898, the Universal Postal Union standardized the colors of certain stamps in order to make international mailing easier and more efficient. They proposed that member nations use the same colors for stamps of the same value. In order to conform to the UPU’s regulations, the 1¢, 2¢, and 5¢ stamps underwent color changes. Later that same year, the 4¢, 6¢, 10¢, and 15¢ stamps were changed to avoid confusion with current issues printed in similar colors.
Webster’s Stamp Proposal
On June 10, 1840, Senator Daniel Webster submitted a resolution to the US Congress recommending that the US issue stamps.
Webster’s proposal had been inspired by the issue of the world’s first postage stamp, the Penny Black, in Great Britain a month earlier on May 1. All eyes were on Great Britain to see how their experiment would turn out.
In America, the US Post Office was struggling with increasing annual deficits. This was in large part due to the complicated and pricey system of postal rates. Additionally, many letters were sent with the expectation that the addressee would pay for the postage, but they often refused. This meant the Post Office carried these letters, sometimes long distances, and never received any payment for them.
Webster was convinced that the US should follow Great Britain’s example and immediately began formulating a resolution to propose a similar system in America. To help support his case, Webster commissioned William J. Stone to reproduce engravings of the Penny Black and the Mulready envelope to accompany his resolution. In later years, many would remark that Stone’s engraving was superior to the Mulready envelopes produced in Great Britain. (You can view Stone’s engraving here.)
On June 10, 1840, Webster addressed the 26th Session of Congress with his resolution, sharing his reproductions and arguing in favor of new rates and stamps. Among his points were “That the rates of postage charged on letters transmitted by the mails of the United States ought to be reduced.” And he went on to say “That it is expedient to inquire into the utility of so altering the present regulations of the Post Office Department as to connect the use of stamps, or stamped covers, with a large reduction in the rates of postage.”
Despite his convincing and impassioned presentation, Congress took no action. At the time, many feared that reducing postage rates would only increase the Post Office’s deficit. It would take five years for them to pass the Postal Act of 1845, which set uniform nationwide postal rates. And it would be another two years before they issued America’s first postage stamps in July 1847.