The 5th Maynard Sundman Lecture

October 21, 2006

Scott Trepel: The Miller Collection and The Era of Private Bank Note Company Stamps 1842-1892

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Scott Trepel:

Thank you all for coming out on a beautiful fall day. I want to thank the Sundman family for making this lecture series possible and I hope that at the end of today you’ve learned something. I’m committing the cardinal sin of public speaking to an audience that knows more than I do. And so, all the specialists are going to say, “I know this, you’re getting this wrong.” Forgive my transgressions; at the very least, I hope to entertain you.

I read somewhere that if you start of a talk with a smiling baby it completely disarms the audience and they become less hostile. This is my daughter about ten years ago before she had a cell phone glued to her ear. And there’s B.K. Jr. Benjamin K. Miller Jr. the son of a very prominent Milwaukee attorney named Benjamin Miller. B.K. Jr. was educated at the right schools. He had a very domineering father who made sure he worked in his law firm. B.K. had a brother George. George was outgoing, liked litigation, liked trials.

B.K. liked trusts, the state’s work, the quiet part of the office. You can see that he had a kind sensitive face, his father called him sensitive but I don’t think he said that in a very positive way. Here’s BK at his desk surrounded by papers, perhaps stamp related papers. He looks fairly young here so I think is the unhappy time of his life. His father died in 1906, he was about 48 years old I think and at that point he retired from the firm and told his brother George, “I have all the money I want or need and you want to make more.” So BK Jr. went out and travelled the world. He assembled a fabulous law library, he hunted, spent time at his lodge in Wisconsin and he lead a classic Victorian era life. Childless, never married. I think he got more enjoyment in the quiet recesses of his hunting lodge, or in his office staring at the latest stamp catalog than he did hanging out with people. At least that’s how I imagine it.

BK Jr. started collecting stamps sometimes before 1917 but right around then he became more serious about it and between 1917 and 1924 really in earnest began assembling a very complete significant collection of United States stamps. I think this 1923 first edition of the Scott’s U.S. Specialized catalog probably appealed to Miller’s mind; he was taxonomic in his approach. He collected many different things and he assembled them in the same sort of taxonomic way, he wanted examples of each kind. I think this catalog of United States stamps gave him the framework to really do what he wanted to do which was complete a United States stamp collection.

In 1925 February of he left the collection to the New York Public Library in New York City. You might wonder why a Milwaukee resident who left his law library to the library there would leave his collection in New York and they say that Charles Phillips a dealer in New York convinced him that more people would see it in New York City than they would in Milwaukee, which is probably true. Sadly, in 1977 there was a major assault on the collection, a thief stayed in the library afterhours broke into the frames and stole many of the stamps and unfortunately Miller’s legacy of wanting to leave a stamp collection for the public good was overshadowed for many years but this theft. The library found itself in a difficult position. On the one hand they felt obliged to display the stamps the way Miller wanted them to and on the other hand they had problems with conservation measures; exposing the stamps to light, theft and they took the collection off display until they could sort those out and happily in 2006 Rarity Revealed, the exhibition hear at the National Postal Museum put Miller’s legacy back up for public display. There’s Wilson, pretending to be looking at the exhibit, Cheryl in the background also pretending. We’ll have it on display in two parts and the natural dividing point is the point at which the private banknote companies lost the contract to print United States postage stamps and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the U.S. Treasury government operation took it over, and that happened in 1894, the first Bureau stamps started in 1894. So this talk and the exhibition you see on display now is confined by the years 1842 through 1893, not ‘92 as it says on the program, and then in 1894 the Bureau takes over and I’m going to focus on that period. We have some incredible things from this period in Miller’s collection of course we have his 1847 plate reconstruction his issues that when he started were only about 30 years old, Columbians, plate blocks of stamps and of course the legendary 1 cent z-grill.

Interestingly this 1 cent z-grill the image was not known to many people. The stamp was on an album page, very hard to see, no one really knew what this looked like until 1998 when I was able to display a picture of it in a catalog and of course now that it has become the keystone of the exhibition here this stamp is becoming as well known visually as it’s mate which is the one cent z-grill that has traded in the marketplace over a number of years. Now when we talk about private bank note companies we’re talking about these companies and these issues: Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson; Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co.; National Bank Note Company; Continental Bank Note Company and Continental had the contract up until 1893, they lost the contract to print new issues in 1894 to the Bureau, they were pretty bitter about it. One of the principals of the company, Arturo Robinson said, “the way we were treated in that last round, I never want to do government work again.” We go back to 1842 to find the first U.S. postage stamp issued by a government authority. This is a stamp that was used in New York City. It was a carrier stamp meaning that it was a stamp that paid a fee for a postman to take your letter either to the post office or bring it from the post office to your residence. Remember in a city like New York back then you had to walk a long distance to get to the main post offices and this carrier service was essential to people living on the outskirts and living pretty much anywhere throughout the city. So in 1842 a private post was started called Greed City Dispatch Post and it was taken over in that year by the New York post office by John Lorimer Graham the U.S. postmaster who had stamps printed up that read, “United States city dispatch post 3 cents,” they have a portrait of Washington they were probably printed by Rawdon Wright and Hatch and they were used for a period of about 4 years until New York City closed down that carrier operation but this is the first government authorized stamp in this country. John Lorimar Graham the New York postmaster was succeeded by Robert H. Morris who had been mayor in the preceding few years but back then being mayor of New York City wasn’t as lucrative or good a job as being postmaster. Postmasterships had cabinet level status, you made a lot of money because you got your take on box rentals and postage you bought and sold, so being postmaster was actually a pretty good job. No offense to any postmasters that have the job now. Morris issued his own stamp in July of 1845 at the same time an entirely new rate structure took effect in this country. Instead of having all these complicated rates based on distance broken down into multiple tiers, Congress said “alright we’re going to charge 5 cents for a letter up to 300 miles and 10 cents for a letter over 300 miles” and it was based on weight so this 5 cent stamp was issued in New York City for use by people within New York by Robert H. Morris and he actually, he and then later his assistants initialed every stamp that was sold. They were printed in sheets of 40 by Rawdon, Wright and Hatch. And this is a reconstruction in Miller’s collection. By reconstruction what I mean that he’s found stamps that represent the position on the printing plate and reassembled them in those corresponding positions.

Which leads us to the 1847 first general issue and I use that term very carefully. These stamps were authorized by Congress they came out in July of 1847 and they corresponded to the same rates, the 5 and 10 cent rates. We have very distinguished portraits of Washington and Franklin and of course there’s the familiar image of Franklin and there’s the painting. To understand the private bank note company era you have to remember that securities things like paper money, stock certificates, and they feared stamps, were forged and the art of security engraving was very important to this country. It was as important as protecting credit card numbers is today and securing financial transactions over the Internet. This idea of using paper money was great but the problem was engraving in copper item by item, subject by subject on the plate created a lot of variability in the impressions so that one bill might look very much different from the other. The whole goal of security printing is to get it exactly the same on every impression so that when you find something that doesn’t look quite right you can spot it as a counterfeit. So when stamps are printed the goal is to get every impression on that sheet to look exactly the same. They got some of it right, they got some of it wrong. We can thank Jacob Perkins for the process of steel plate engraving. Jacob Perkins was alive at the turn of the century in 1800 he patented a method of carbonized steel. You could use this steel and a transfer roll to create a master die, harden it, then create plates that had identical impressions in the plate of very stamp. It went a long way to create the kind of consistency that you need to prevent counterfeiting. Jacob Perkins also invented the first practical refrigeration system in the early 1800s, fascinating man. If you Google him and go to the genealogy it’s very interesting to red about him and he went on to found the firm of Perkins Bacon and he was a very very important player in the security printing field. On the right we have Asher Durand later in life doing what he loved to do best which as painting, he was a very well known artist, he was one of the founders of the Hudson River School of painting. He was also an extremely accomplished engraver who was responsible for engraving the Franklin vignette. Asher Durand had been asked by John Trumbull to do an engraving of the Declaration of Independence based on Trumbull’s painting and I think it took him 3 or 4 years to accomplish that. He was a brilliant artist and here we see him painting which is eventually what he did, returning to his passion. I’m not trusting myself entirely so I’m looking at my cards. Asher Durand was born in New Jersey, as a Jersey boy I like that, and he lived to 90.

Now, I talked about plates and we showed the plating of the NY provisional stamp. Benjamin Miller because of his technical interest of stamps loved to recreate these plates so the plates of the 1847 issue were printed were 200 subjects. They printed sheets of 200 stamps that come in panes of 100 he assembled a nearly complete reconstruction of all 200 positions of the 10 cent 1847 and he did it with the help of Elliott Perry a dealer who was the first to reconstruct the plate of the 10 cent ‘47. I’ll talk a little bit about what happened when stamps were introduced. Again, remembering that previously you paid your postage either by presenting a coin at the post office or when the letter was delivered to you, you paid the postage on it. When stamps were introduced it was a novel concept, now I’m going to pay the postage ahead of time. I’ll affix this stamp and all these post offices around the country had to figure out a way to cancel them and collectors refer to the cancels as killer cancellations and I always thought that was just a stamp term but in Morris' own letter books he uses that term, that the marking device should kill the stamp. And so postmasters were instructed to kill the stamp and they did it, in the beginning by using what the just normally used in the past. Here we have a numeral “5,” which is probably some post office’s marking that they used on stampless letters, during the stampless period, and we have a “paid,” probably the same thing they took whatever they had been using on regular mail and they simply used it on the new stamps. Something else that they did which may or may not have been anticipated is if you’re running out of 5 cent stamps and have 10 cent stamps why not cut them in half and use them for 5 cent postage. Miller loved bisects.

He has bisected stamps throughout his collection and his ‘47s are quite exceptional. Here we have a page of 10 cent ‘47 bisects. This one, interestingly, presumably the root agent or perhaps the postmaster in Charleston, Virginia, but somebody wrote “illegal stamp” over that because they felt like you couldn’t just cut a stamp in half and use it on a letter. Why would that be, why would they really care? They know they got 10 cents for the stamp. So what if you use it? Well part of the problem is, if when the stamp is cancelled, you only cancelled one half of it, obviously the other half that, where the cancel missed, can be reused. Here we have a very very rare, possibly unique, horizontal bisect cancel by the Baltimore railroad route agent. Vertical diagonal bisects of the 10 cent stamp are not common but those are usually how you find them, horizontal stamps are very rare and I don’t know why that is. I’m not sure why a horizontal would be any rarer than a diagonal or a vertical. This is kind of a neat page, we call this the Dunlop Quartet. It’s on Miller’s original page and what we have is a series of envelopes, what we call “ladies envelopes.” They are small and embossed and very pretty and they were usually used for polite correspondence between ladies of the era. These were mailed in 1851 just as the rate was changing from 5 cents prepaid to 3 cents prepaid and what you have here is a series that actually crosses that period. On June 25th 1851 the letter was sent. It was mark paid at the post office with red, 5 cents was paid to take it to Princeton, New Jersey; at the upper right, in June 28th three days later, the same thing. Interestingly here, it was mark paid in red and my guess is rather than bring a coin to the post office, this was June 30th a day before the rate change took effect and this would be worthless from that point, it was demonetized at that point, they probably went to the post office and said, “look, can you mark these letters paid and let me use some of these stamps to pay the postage because I don’t want to pay coins and these are going to worthless tomorrow…” And we had a very obliging postmaster in Philadelphia, who affixed the stamp over the “paid” and then cancelled it with a blue grey. There’s no question in my mind this is authentic. I’m sure there are skeptics who would say, “oh I’m sure somebody just pasted it there,” but that’s not a forger’s work. First of all, why a forger would paste it over the marking like that, makes no sense, secondly, because you see the group, you know that this is the event. So we have a last day of the valid period of this stamp. And then it’s July 19th, but it’s actually one year later, it’s July 19th, 1852, a 3 cent stamp showing the rate paid. When I first looked at the Miller Collection around 1989, I was absolutely astounded by this group of covers.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

Alright, we move away from Rawdon, Wright and Hatch who printed the 1847 issue and the New York postmasters provisional and probably the city dispatch post stamps. They lost the contract and in 1851 Toppan, Carpenter and Company, a Philadelphia printer, won the contract. And there were new rates, now it would only cost 3 cents to mail a letter, they had 1 cent for other rates, they had the 3 cent for the basic letter rate, and 12 cent for the multiple of the rate. So they have three new stamps issued in 1851. That was followed in 1855 and 1856 by two other stamps. Notice that all of the stamps we’ve shown so far had no perforations, they were imperforate so we have the 10 cent of 1855 which became necessary because of a rate change where it would now cost 10 cents to send a letter between coasts, and the 10 cent rate required a new stamp and we have the 5 cent stamp; we’ve never been able to figure out exactly why they created a 5 cent stamp but it’s most common use was to pay the postage necessary to get a letter onboard a ship that was leaving for Europe and you just paid your American share of that postage and the rest was collected over in Europe; so the 1855 and 1856 issues.

The vignettes for those were engraved by a man named Joseph Ives Pease. Pease was an artist, a recognized banknote engraver, in the 1830s I believe he went to do portrait work for the National Portrait Gallery in Philadelphia. He was there in Philadelphia during the 1851 period and probably was used by Toppan, Carpenter to engrave the vignettes for the 1851 series. This is what a room looks like where they are doing engraving. You see the artwork up there. They had mirrors which would, when you engraved on the steel die, they would engrave in reverse. You have a whole lineup of engravers there, that’s a busy bustling engraving room during the 1800s and then you have the transfer room where the master dies are used to create the plates but how are you going to take an engraved image on a master die and transfer it 100 times or 200 times to a plate, well they used what’s called a transfer roll. That’s basically a soft piece of steel that’s rocked into the master die which transfers the image, then they use that roll to create the 100 or 200 subjects on the printing plate. Now, doing that opens up all sorts of opportunity for imperfections in the process. Toppan Carpenter’s goal as I said before was uniformity. Uniformity prevented counterfeiting and yet when they created these plates they did things like leave the bottom and the top parts of the design off.

Collectors love this stuff. You take a big pile of 1 cent blue stamps and collectors sit there and say this a type one and this is a type two and type three and of all of the type threes the impressions from the 99th position on the right pane of plate 2—and anybody whose visiting here that’s not really a stamp collector must realize now we are a very anal group—but anyway, the 99th stamp on the right pane of plate 2 has very wide gaps in the lines at the top and the bottom. That’s the ultimate type 3 stamp that you can get and this is a detailed photo of it from a pair that’s on a cover to France. Now, I’m following up the 1851 issue with a special collection, it’s sort of a sub collection within Miller’s, he bought Dr. Carol Chase’s carrier collection, Franklin and eagle carriers and this is a page from it. These belong with the 1851 issue because at the same time they created the basic letter rate stamps they also created stamps for the carrier fee. And here we have the Franklin carrier which for various reasons was distributed to some places, to Philadelphia, New York, New Orleans but very few were sold and used. They withdrew it almost immediately and replaced it with the eagle carrier. Here we have a Franklin carrier on the earliest use of the stamp from Philadelphia on October 28th the carrier stamp payed for a postman to bring this letter to the post office and from there it was sent on to Cotesville, Pennsylvania and charged 5 cents on delivery. So the carrier stamp only serves one purpose here it pays for the letter to be brought to the post office. There’s only 3 covers known which show the Franklin carrier used from New York. Although New York received the most stamps, oddly enough, because of circumstances they never were used until 1852 and then very briefly so we have the Franklin carrier stamp tied in New York and this was delivered strictly within the city, to Fulton St.

Question from audience:

Did you pay extra for that? Was the carrier stamp alone good enough for delivery? No drop rate?


Yes, it was probably just a carrier to bring from one place to another.

This is the eagle carrier that replaced the Franklin carrier. In the beginning there’s correspondence that shows that the postmaster general and the head of Toppan Carpenter were corresponding because there was a lot of dissatisfaction with the Franklin carrier it looked too much like the regular one cent stamp which you saw before so they redesigned something that says ‘U.S.P.O. Dispatch’, they put a denomination on it which is sort of interesting because the Franklin carrier had no denomination, it could be used fro one cent or 2 cent, but this stamp said one cent and had an eagle vignette that the Toppan Carpenter president was very proud of and they convinced the post office to buy these stamps and these are what were used.

Now in 1857, perforations were introduced. Toppan Carpenter succeeded in buying a Bemrose Perforator from an English firm and they started putting holes in stamps. In this particular case, this plate was created after perforations were introduced but they still left very little space for the perforations. For Collectors, we don’t like this because often the perforations cut into the design and it was hard to get it right. From there point of view it must have been a nightmare to perforate these sheets, exactly between these narrow lanes between the designs. They didn’t always do it right either. This shows that this vertical strip has perforations along the edges but is missing the perforations in between. In 1859 and 1860 they came out with new denominations that were necessary for these high ocean postage charges on letters, because of the treaties that were negotiated, the postal treaties between countries and were new arrangements. So, they have a 24 cent and 30 cent stamp and a 90 cent stamp. The 90 cent stamp didn’t come out until 1860 and interestingly you always think, well if you’re a novice and you’re not familiar with the hobby, you always think that uncancelled stamps are better than cancelled stamps but in this case, because it was a high value and it was in use a very brief period of time this is one of the few cases in U.S. stamp collecting where a cancelled example is worth more than unused. Now, uniformity in design was one thing there was also uniformity in ink or lack of it. Toppan Carpenter seemed to create a huge variety of shades especially among the stamps that were red or brown. Here we have a period photo of an ink mixer and this was an art, they had to combine inks in a certain way; some inks had corrosive elements which wreaked havoc on the plates. This stamp of the entire—there are many many 3 cent shades, so many that I can’t get into it, but the 5 cent stamp which is a bit scarcer, there are some very distinctive shades, now remember these are all perforated and imperforate sheets that had been printed before the perforations were introduced were on hand when they started perforating stamps beginning to mid-1857. This is what I call the 1856 shade. You’re not going to find this in the Scott catalog distinguished this way but I believe it to be true that this represents the shade of the Scott #12 an imperforate stamp which simply was on hand when they introduced perforations they ran it through the perforator and sent it out. I do not believe they went to press again until 1858, months after they had started perforating stamps and when they did that I believe they created this much brighter orangey reddish brown, they created what we call Indian red which is a very politically incorrect term, that stamp will have to be renamed eventually. The stamp at the end there, the brick red, I think that was just a mistake it was just bad ink and they make some portion of it and they say this really looks like hell, and then the 1859 shade which is a very distinctive brown, different from all the others. Now we go to the 1861 issue and the first contract won by the Nation Bank Note Company. Nation Bank Note Company was a major printing firm, had some of the best engravers, when the civil war was imminent, the post office figured out very quickly that stamps in the hands of rebelling postmasters could be used as money and they could ship those stamps back up north somehow and trade them for goods and things that the Confederacy needed. So they knew they were going to have to demonetize all the old stamps and reissue a new set of stamps and they did that with the ‘61s. This is what we called the first design and first colors which Miller has. These are controversial stamps these first designs and first colors. They bring a lot of money in the marketplace however some people say they are not real stamps because they were not sold over the post office counter; they call them essays. And it’s true that they were probably trial products, I don’t think you ever going to find one of these used, but I don’t think they were essays found in the files and paperwork of the printing company. I think these were distributed though official channels. I think they were probably sent out, they are so rare they are not like an ordinary perforated and gummed essays; they’re so rare that I think they were probably trials made to show what the new stamps would look like and they were sent around somewhere and they were found in very random places not in one source, they don’t exist as blocks, except for the 3 cent but these three in particular are very rare. You could tell the difference, in the 1 cent the difference is in the design in the engraving and there are just parts of it that are added to it on the issued stamp on the right. That’s the regular issued stamp that was sold at the post office on the right. With the 12 cent that’s much more apparent you can see that they added something to the corners. We’re not really sure why they did this, these don’t seem to be drastic changes, some people say that they created more space between the plates but I’m not convinced of that either. I think that it’s very odd that they would go to the trouble and expense of creating new dies and new plates when they already had perfectly acceptable and usable stamps. And this is the 30 cent, the engraving didn’t change but the color changed. This is a very distinctive deep orange shade. And there we have a Nation Bank Note Company imprint on a strip of this, each one overprinted specimen, there are quite a few of these specimens and I’m not sure what purpose they served, I don’t think anybody knows, but, this is illustrated here just to show you the Nation Bank Note Company imprint at the center there. Now the 1861 series was followed up in 1866 with the 15 cent Lincoln there’s a debate about exactly when the stamp was issued but it was issued about a year after Lincoln was assassinated. It could have been April 1866, I found an April cover that I believe is genuine; some argued it was issued on the exact one year anniversary, whatever it is it was clearly designed as a tribute to the martyred president. But it is not the first Lincoln stamp. The Lincoln newspaper stamp was issued in 1865. This came out before the 15 cent regular postage stamp and has what I don’t think is a particular flattering angle or view of Lincoln, he sort of looks slain there. Anyway, they created the stamp in this giant format because it was designed to be stuck on the tops of newspaper bundles that were thrown on and off trains so the person handling the bundles of newspapers that were being distributed by the post office could see the big stamp on it and see that it was the right denomination. That’s the way these stamps functioned, the other ones that came out later had a different purpose. Nation Bank Note Company‘s product was much more uniform, they had their problems with ink mixtures but they were much more uniform in terms of the engravings but they also had their mess ups. Here we have a double impression, a sheet fed through the printing press twice. Here we have a stamp printed on both ides. Now an interesting anecdote about this is, when I put this in the book, the fellow in my office, John, who been tracking stamps that were printed on both sides and how many exist and all that, he couldn’t believe that this was in the Miller collection, he didn’t realize it. And I said, well why didn’t you ask me, but he for years, he had been lobbying to get this de-listed from the Scott catalog because he thought it didn’t existed, he couldn’t find a record of it. And there it is. There’s only one copy known and this is it, it’s in Miller’s collection.

Now we’re going to move into the grilled era and Charles F. Steel looks like he was 35 years old when he patented his grilling device in 1867, he could be about 35 maybe 40 there. He was a business genius. He was not an engraver but he was a genius at improving the efficiency of the printing process and for locking in what they call sustainable long term competitive advantage. And he got a contract with the government for his grilling device, I think by basically planting a lot of stories about stamp re-cleaning, or stamp cleaning for re-use, where people would take the cancellations off stamps and reuse them on letters. There were horrible estimates out there on how much the post office was losing because of this. I think it was all a lot of nonsense. I handle a lot of covers and I see how many stamps were reused and I don’t think there were a lot of reused postage stamps. Maybe some but not certainly enough to require the government to pay on every stamp produced for a waffle like grill impression, embossing the stamp that would break the paper fibers and allow the cancel to be soaked in. So, grills are an ethereal form of value. They were ethereal then and they’re ethereal now because people pay millions of dollars to own a stamp that for all practical purposes looks exactly the same as one that’s worth a few bucks. The difference is in the grill. The grill is a pattern of embossing which reflects the metal plate or roller—we don’t even know what the machine really looked like—but it left this embossed pattern in there and this shows a part of the grilling plate and in this case they started off and they grilled the stamp over the whole stamp. Now that didn’t work because once you weaken the perforation holes, the things fell apart. So that was an experiment that didn’t work too well. This is a page from Miller and here he just basically showed a bunch of e-grills some of these new things they were identifying called z-grills and then he has the 1 cent z-grill there. Now, on the face of it, this stamp I’ll say is worth about 3 bucks but when you turn it over, the thing that makes a z-grill special, and this is remarkable but I’ll explain why in a second, is that the ridges, the points on the grill ran in a horizontal direction. It would be like looking at a house and the top of the house has the rooftop running horizontally across the stamp instead of vertically. That’s what makes the stamp a z-grill stamp. It’s the direction of those points. Now, z-grill stamps were considered a variety of e-grill stamps. The first thing they did was measure how big is the grill and the Scott catalog, up until a certain point, they simply gave a Scott catalog number to the size of the grill and whether it points up or down. Then, they sub listed something called a z-grill because an early researcher, Stevenson, recognized that there were two kinds at that approximate size; one with the ridges running horizontally and the other one with the ridges running vertically. So he called them “z- grills” and Miller very early on bought the z-grill. The thing that made these stamps so valuable is the fact that they became major Scott numbers and spaces in an album because anyone who wants to complete a U.S. stamp collection must buy a copy of every classified stamp, major listed stamp and this is one of them. Miller, at the time he bought it, was smart enough to say, “hey, I want one of these,” because he wanted one of everything. He was like a butterfly collector and this was a different kind of butterfly.

So Miller—this is an entry from his inventory of purchases: 1923, December 16th, Elliott Perry is the source z-grill unique $300. [laughter] You know what the multiplier of that is today. And that’s Elliott Perry, the dean of philatelic scholars a brilliant stamp man and he was the one who negotiated the sale of Stevenson’s collection of grills and allowed Miller to buy the 1 cent z-grill and all the others. Perry had actually owned all the stamps and he bought Stevenson’s collection and had it a few years and played around with it and then sold it all to Miller. That’s the 10 cent z-grill from miller’s collection and again these little ridges run horizontally across the stamp. If that were a 10 cent e-grill or an f- grill it would be worth a couple hundred bucks.

We move on to the 1869 issue; National Bank Note Company is asked to produce a new set of stamps, they’re pretty excited about it, they’re going to go all out, the top four values will be bi-colored stamps. These are the first bicolored postage stamps. And here we have the set of four of them, the 10 cent and the 30 cent designs were engraved by a man named Luigi Delnoce. Delnoce was a brilliant brilliant engraver, great artist, he trained under John Casselear and he was recognized as one of the greatest. He had a couple kids who were also in the engraving fields one of which was a crook and I think was discovered to be counterfeiting paper money or something like that. A n’er do well son. And that’s McDonough. McDonough was the president of the National Bank Note Company and worked in designing the 1869 series. He was probably very proud of the product but the times were changing these ‘69s proved to be very unpopular and they were replaced almost immediately afterward. A quick anecdote from Miller’s ‘69s this is Miller’s 2 cent Luray bisect, again, I mentioned he loved bisect covers. So here we have a 2 cent stamp cut in half by an IRS agent named Bramhall down in Luray, Virginia. Bramhall is sending out notices about tax information that’s due and a bunch of these were found, some have 3 cent stamps cut into thirds, two thirds, we thought there was only one with a 2 cent stamp but then another one was out there on the marketplace. All along we thought this was the only one but Miller had the other. So within a period of 6 months I saw Miller’s again and I was asked to sell this and when I looked at the two of them and thought, well gee one’s the upper left half one’s the bottom right half I wonder if they go together and I’ll be darned, sure enough on march 26, 1870 Bramhall cut the stamp in half and used one here and the other there and they match up perfectly. Unfortunately or fortunately, no collector’s ever going to be able to put the two of them together, at least not legally. So we go into the 1870 to 1888 portrait series… they were designed with larger format, distinguished portraits, most of the time the framework was very neoclassical in design this one happens to have, there are only two values which have things in the design, this has the military armaments surrounding Winfield Scott. The 90 cent Oliver Perry stamps has some marine symbols, anchors I think in the corners. These stamps were in use for 20 years. It says 1888 but that’s the last technical issue they were valid all the way through 1890 until they were replaced by the new series. Butler Packard was the designer. That’s the best picture I could get of Butler… more hair than man looks like a member of ZZ Top. [laughter] Here’s the 1870 National Bank Note Company a plate block showing the imprint. Now, in 1873 Continental Bank Note Company, a competing company won the contract.

These were fiercely fought contests between these companies and Continental won it and National sent over all the plates and dies that were held because technically that was the property of the government, they sent it over, Continental had to get up to speed pretty quickly, they took the dies and they put little secret marks in them so they would know they were there product. They put these little marks in there. On the 12 cent you can see that, and some of the other values. They started printing stamps in 1873.

Now, all printers don’t use all the same papers. And collectors, specialists have tried very hard to figure out what the guys at Continental’s paper room might have been picking up and using as opposed to the guys at National. It becomes important because that 24 cent stamp I showed before, if it comes on ribbed paper you’ve got a real winner because ribbed paper is supposedly only used by Continental—we’ve never found a ribbed paper stamp that was a National printing. Miller had ribbed and silk paper. Silk paper is another where if it meets the right criteria it is supposed to be a Continental printing. This is a 30 cent on ribbed paper and that’s a 24 cent that Miller said had silk fibers. I haven’t examined it up close and I can’t tell you much more about it. But, these are believed to be papers that only Continental used. So maybe, if it is, that’s another example of a 24 cent Continental. Now, the consolidation of 1878 was a result of the

U.S. government turning over all of its security and bank note printing and everything to the Bureau. Which meant that these private companies lost a lot of there income stream so they consolidated. Now, these are the 7 companies that originally made up the American Bank Note Company which was founded in 1858. These are great names: Toppan Carpenter, Draper Welch… all these companies. You have to remember these are engravers they move around a lot they form new partnerships… but that’s the consolidated American Bank Note Company and then in 1878 the three big players, American, Continental National got together and merged under the American Bank Note Company heading and were no longer competing with each other. I would love to have been in on some of those corporate meetings. I can only imagine all these egos and personalities trying to get together. American Bank Note Company was a very dominant player into the 20th century. Now, what’s interesting is although it’s American Bank Note Company printing the stamp in purple in 1888, they’re still using the plates that they inherited from the National imprint, so that’s plate number 23 with the National imprint but it’s printed in the purple color which wasn’t done until 1888. And here we have American’s product, American’s imprint 1882 re-engraved stamp.

Some of the other things that were coming out of these private bank note companies during this period, newspapers and periodical stamps. I love these stamps; they’re the naked lady stamps. Unbelievable in 1875 the post office, is literally, when they explained this issue, I gotta read this because I love it, they said “the 24 dollar Goddess of Peace is a half naked figure and then they said the 60 dollar Indian Maiden is naked from her waist down, er no, I’m sorry, “is clothed from her waist down.” But, I think it’s just a big inside joke because these stamps were never meant to be distributed to the public. They were used almost as a form of receipt in the receipt books for postage paid on huge shipments of newspapers so a publisher would come in and dump off his 100 of pounds of newspapers and this stamp would get stuck in the book and cancelled. So it wasn’t supposed to circulate among the public. I can’t imagine in 1875 naked women one stamps, I can’t even imagine that in 2006. They also printed stamps for the government departments; they’re called official stamps they came out in 1873 at the point where the free franking privilege for all these governments offices was revoked and now you had to use stamps to account for all the postage so no more freebies which basically if you went to your local guy he’d sign off on everything and give you a bunch of signed envelopes in exchange for a vote… they do it differently now. This is the 20 dollar State Department featuring William Seward. The other thing they did in 1875 was they made special printings of stamps. They went back, either recreating the plates or using the old plates to reprint the stamps for sale to collectors through the third assistant postmaster general’s office. This was like a collector program, you missed it the first time so come get it now. Some of them were no longer valid for postage. These two at the top had been demonetized so you could no longer use those for postage but some of them were still good like this 30 cent 1861 design it was still a valid stamp in 1875 so when they reprinted it some people actually used them, Miller has a cancelled example of these two and some others. They’re very rare and desirable in used condition. They also made special printings of stamps that were currently in use; here’s a 5 cent Taylor which came out in 1875 to meet a new rate created by the formation of the General Postal Union. The special printing and the current stamp were out at the same time and these are very very difficult to tell from the regular stamp. If you take big pile of 5 cent Taylor stamps, and the normal one is very common, separating the special printing from the rest of the pile can be very difficult. I do it—I flip it over and if it has Warren H. Coleman’s back stamp, he was a dealer who back stamped a lot of these, then I know it’s a special printing. They were distributed from the 3rd assistant postmaster general’s office in envelopes this is an envelope that was used to distribute a set of the issue of 1870. It’s kind of fun to think if you could go buy that today for $2. I think it’s worth more today…graded at least. They also made special printings of official stamps but because those were still valid, still official, and they weren’t supposed to be sold to the general public, they had to overprint those “specimen.” This is a specimen overprint but if your eyes are really good you can see that it’s “sep” and not “spe” that a “sepcimen” error. Now, we’re approaching the end of the bank note era and there was a contract put up for bid in 1889 and Charles Steel who had left the big companies and formed one of his own, won the contract, submitted the lowest bid, between the time he won it and the time that work would officially start, officially Steel couldn’t find a fire resistant warehouse, couldn’t do this, couldn’t do that. When I was going through the American Bank Note Company archives, which included some paperwork, I found this memo, sealed in an envelope, and it’s dated August 23, 1889, after Steel won the contract to print the stamps. The American Bank Note Company is basically saying we’re going to pay you x number of dollars per year for five years to not compete with us. Suddenly after that Steel can’t produce, he can’t come through with what he promised to do, he was bought off, classic Gilded Age intrigue. And the memo specifies that this attorney named G—everything’s initials—would receive the money and distribute it to Steel… I love this. So American Bank Note Company got the contract between 1890 and ‘93 they printed stamps called the small bank note issue, you can see the format, it’s similar in design but smaller square stamps. They have their imprint across the top. They weren’t too sensitive to Southerners who still remember the March to the Sea, they put General Sherman on the 8 cent stamp. But they put Henry Clay on the 15 cent stamp. Just to show the correlation between the stamps and the banknotes, the same vignette appears much earlier on an engraving with a National Bank Note Company imprint. I think it’s great that Miller put on a page, or had this put on a page, because it shows how closely the stamps and the paper money are linked through the engravers.

In 1893 the Columbian Exposition gives the post office a chance to show its stuff. John Wanamaker is postmaster general this is Wanamaker’s department store, he’s the merchant prince, he smells money in the air here so he decides he’s going to print a set of stamps that have total face value of $16.34 including one dollar 2,3,4 and $5 values which have very little postal function, but what a way to get money.  Maybe he is the first postmaster general to realize that the money you receive for stamps when you’re not actually performing any service is a great source of cash flow. I think they actually carry it on the books as a deferred liability. But I’d like to have a lot of that kind of deferred liability but anyway, $16.34, the public hated it, stamps collectors felt they were being taken advantage of, but it is a very beautiful set of stamps. The 5 dollar was engraved by master engravers Alfred Jones and Charles Skinner who also designed other stamps in the set. The $2 is an incredible work of art. This is a plate block, which is Miller’s way of showing the $2 but when you look at that design to see Columbus in chains, all the detailed work that goes into that engraving, it really is phenomenal. I’ve always thought this series was admired of the wrong reasons I think the engraving work is the best that was ever done on classic commemorative stamps. Miller obtained a set of Columbian stamps in imperforate pairs and he was very proud of this set, he claims it’s unique and I think it is. It’s on stamp paper with gum; these are legitimate stamps but they have no perforations. The story was told that Wannamaker took this set and gave it to a New York merchant named Henry Hilton; I have no idea if he’s related to Paris but the stamps stayed with Hilton and eventually made their way to Miller; a tremendous set of stamps. There are no imperforates other than some of the low values exist in that form but for the high values that’s just remarkable. And then finally the bureau takes over in 1894. They put the contract up and one of the private companies with the low bidder, there was a lot of squabbling going on there was disputes… and during that time, Claude Johnson the new head of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, snuck in got in a lower bid and won the contract and created a lot of animosity. The Bureau suddenly had to create new stamps and they basically took what they had been working with and added triangles. This is a new value this is a dollar value which was added to the series but these triangles up here are a common element in the 1894 issue, the first Bureau issue, they took the old small designs and added the triangles to the top and started printing away, they had trouble at first but eventually got up to speed and Claude Johnson assembled a phenomenal team, Thomas Morris was there; a team of engravers and talent that was unparalleled and they were responsible for producing stamps pretty much straight through. I think the overrun nations were printed by a private bank note company and then eventually it was returned to the private sector.

Well, you’ve heard the talk and now you can buy the book. [laughter and applause] Thank you very much. Questions I guess?

Wilson Hulme:

Yes, we have time for a few questions and then we have a reception and an opportunity to not only buy the book but to get it signed by Scott. I’ll let you call on who…

Scott Trepel:

And some people have to catch trains, I don’t, but some people have to catch trains so if you need to don’t worry, I won’t be insulted. Yes…

Question from audience:


Scott Trepel:

There was a process that they went through where sealed bids had to be submitted on a certain date. It was probably very secretive; nobody wanted the other guy to know what they were bidding … quality of product; you had to submit samples of what you were going to produce, show that you could do it, show that you had fireproof premises, that you could accommodate the stamp agent being on premises, because the stamp agent worked for the government and he made sure that what came out of the vault was accounted for and distributed to the right places. So it was a complicated process but pretty well documented, and you can see how they went about it. Other questions,


Question from audience:

Is it true one of the reasons that the contract changed in 1861, was that the 1851 contractor was alleged to have had confederate sympathies? I’ve heard that.

Scott Trepel:

Toppan, Carpenter was a up in Philadelphia, I had not heard that before, and I don’t know of anything that would tell me that that’s true. I mean there were other very good reasons for National to get it, and I think those are probably the reasons, but it could be that they had Confederate sympathies. …Yes? Any other questions? Oh everybody’s going to catch their train, great!

Question from audience:

A lot of blood sweat and tears went into building a collection like this in a fairly short period of time, hum, can you elucidate any more on the thought process Miller went through in deciding to donate that to the New York Public Library?

Scott Trepel:

Yea, I mean I’d have to speculate but Miller, certainly intended, without children and a spouse, certainly intended to give things to other people. He’s quoted as saying that he feels that these things he’s amassed should be for the public educational benefit. So, without heirs and with a tendency to do things for the public good he donated whatever collections he built to public institutions, including a great law library which I said is in Milwaukee and the stamp collection here and there are other things he collected and distributed. I think he liked taxidermy-ed animals, right? Yes, but not Owney. [laughter] Yes?

Question from audience:


Scott Trepel:

1 cent z-grill there are two copies known, one circulating in the marketplace and the other in the library.

Question from audience:


Scott Trepel:

The question is, are there stamps missing from Miller’s collection? … I think that’s the question. And yes, there are very rare stamps missing from Miller’s collection. Miller collected briefly, seven years, spent $140,000, did a pretty good job, but was he a Titan of collecting at the time? No. he was very accomplished at what he set out to do but he didn’t compete with guys like Gibson, and Worthington and people who assembled phenomenal collections of postmasters provisionals and important blocks and classic issues and rare covers; Miller, probably because of his personality and probably because of his, the accessibility to the marketplace, concentrated on varieties, on a complete collection, and really in the area of what would have been almost like new

issues, the Washington Franklin period, and private vending machine perforations, went far beyond what anybody’s ever done since. I mean it’s a phenomenal collection in those areas but that’s what he concentrated on and that wasn’t the flavor of the mega collectors who were out there at the time, Caspary’s collection dwarfs this in terms of its number of important rarities, and Caspary was his contemporary.

Wilson Hulme:

I’m going to cull the question just in time but Scott will be around; we have a reception; please take the time to not only talk with Scott but talk with your fellow collectors. You have an opportunity to buy his book when you get the time. I’d like to say one thing just in response to your question about the number of 1 cent z-grills, the only two known copies are on display right now in our exhibit; please make sure you see them when you get a chance. They’ve never been displayed together before. And we’d like to ask that you fill out the questionnaire that’s in your pamphlet so that we know what you like or what we can do better next time; thank you. Thank you Scott and thank you to everyone for coming.


Scott Trepel:

Thank you.

Writer, researcher and auctioneer Scott Trepel guided the audience on a tour of the classic era of U.S. philately, displaying examples from The New York Public Library's legendary Benjamin K. Miller collection.

About Scott Trepel

Scott Trepel headshot

Scott Trepel is a member of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s Council of Philatelists and president of Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries in New York City. He has written numerous works including auction catalogues that have become standard philatelic reference works,The City Despatch Post 1842-1852 Issues: A Study of America’s First and Most Versatile Stamp-producing Plate and Wells, Fargo & Company 1861 Pony Express Issues.

Trepel is author of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum exhibition catalogue, Rarity Revealed: The Benjamin K. Miller Stamp Collection.