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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

'First' US postage stamp auctions online next month, priced at $15,000

Issued in July 1887 and bearing George Washington's likeness, this stamp heralded a new era

The first US postage stamp - or rather one of them - is going under the hammer at Downeast Stamps' upcoming October 26 auction.

The introduction of postage stamps in the UK with the Penny Black, in May 1840, was received with great interest around the world, including in the United States.

New York-based Private carrier Alexander M Greig was the first to take the initiative and established his own "City Dispatch Post" on February 1, 1842.

His service covered New York City as far north as 23rd street, with issued stamps bearing a portrait of first US President George Washington from line engraved plates.

Yet it wasn't until March 3, 1847, that the first US stamp issues were authorised by an act of Congress. They were presented for sale on July 1 in New York City, then in Boston and other cities.


The George Washington 10¢ stamp

Two stamps were issued. One was an engraved 5¢ red brown stamp depicting Benjamin Franklin, the first postmaster of the US (its earliest known use was on July 7, 1847).

The other was a 10¢ value in black featuring George Washington (first used earlier the same week, July 2, 1847). Both stamps were imperforate, as were all US stamps until 1857.

Each stamp was hand engraved in steel, it is believed, and produced in sheets of 200 stamps. About 3.7 million of the 5¢ Franklin stamp were sold, and 895,000 of the 10¢ Washington.


The Benjamin Franklin 5¢ version

Because the 5¢ stamp is often found today with very poor impressions, due to the type of ink used, they are very prized by collectors.

On the other hand, most 10¢ stamps still bear strong impressions - including the example appearing in Downeast's sale.

Unused examples of the 10¢ black are scarce, and can bring values of up-to $28,000 if in very fine condition (or 5-10% of this value if in poor condition).

The example for sale at Downeast is described as being "in very fine condition" with four nice margins and no gum.

With a noticeable large plate crack in its upper left - caused by a flaw in the surface of the steel printing plate - this coveted piece from the earliest origins of US philately is estimated at $15,000.