Since the first commercial on-cover use of the United States $5 Alexander Hamilton stamp (Scott 1053) was discovered in 1996, just 16 more have been documented, for a total of 17.
The 17th and latest commercial $5 Hamilton cover to surface is a No. 10-size envelope sent via registered mail in April 1970 by a Mrs. C.T. Kehew of Cape May, N.J., to the Bank of New Jersey in Camden, N.J.
First-day covers of the Hamilton stamp exceed 34,000, but only 17 commercial covers have been discovered, according to Linn’s census.
These include four postage due uses, eight registered bank covers and five that were sent between collectors and stamp dealers.
An astute collector from Ohio spotted the cover on eBay and purchased it Oct. 23, 2014, for slightly more than the $150 opening bid.
Back stamps on the envelope (not shown) confirm that the cover was mailed April 20 from Cape May and arrived in Camden the next day. A circular dial handstamp on the front shows that the bank received the letter shortly before 9 a.m. April 21.
Mrs. Kehew evidently was sending a valuable document to the bank, as indicated by the directive at lower left: “Attn [Attention]: Mr. H. L. Trebing/Trust Dept.”
Therefore, she chose registry service, along with a return receipt to verify that the letter had been received at the bank.
Accompanying the $5 Hamilton stamp on the envelope are a single 20¢ George C. Marshall (Scott 1289) and a single 6¢ Flag Over White House (1338), for a total franking of $5.26.
Breakdown of the postage and fees is as follows: $5.05 registration fee for indemnity of $14,000 ($4.45 for the first $10,000, and 60¢ for the next $4,000 [at 15¢ for each added $1,000]); 15¢ for return receipt service; and 6¢ for first-class postage.
Use of the $5 Hamilton from the 1954-73 Liberty series was common into the early 1970s, as post offices depleted their stocks of Liberty stamps and replaced them with stamps from the 1965-78 Prominent Americans series.
Given that the Prominent Americans $5 John Bassett Moore stamp (Scott 1295) was issued in December 1966, the 1970 cover represents a somewhat out-of-period use of the Hamilton stamp.
Nonetheless, it is a true commercial use, and the Ohio collector considers the price he paid to be a real bargain.
What might account for the substantial difference between the roughly $150 paid and the $2,300 value for a commercial $5 Hamilton cover listed in the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers?
An answer might be found in the description of the cover that the seller provided on eBay: “New Jersey: Cape May 1970 #1053, $5.00 Hamilton Registered Cover, $5.26 rate.”
A great deal of information is presented in that listing, but one crucial word is missing: “Liberty.”
Active collectors of Liberty series covers regularly search the U.S. postal history listings on eBay and other online venues using the key word “Liberty” — the popular moniker for the series among collectors.
In this case, the absence of that important word meant that some Liberty collectors did not find this auction during their searches.
As it turned out, just two bids were placed on the cover.
Had the seller included “Liberty” in the description, it is highly likely that the final selling price would have been noticeably more than the $154.16 the Ohio collector actually paid.
Linn’s reported the sale of the earliest-documented on-cover use of the $5 Hamilton on page 1 of the Sept. 9, 2013, issue.
That cover, sent via registered mail April 16, 1958, sold for more than $1,200 on eBay.
Linn’s welcomes information and items about U.S. dollar-denominated commemorative and definitive stamps. Write to Dollar-Sign Stamps, Box 29, Sidney, OH 45365.