US Stamps

Marijuana tax stamp escapes fate of going up in puff of smoke

Oct 27, 2017, 11 AM

Matthew Healey’s January Auction Roundup column reported that a $100 federal marijuana tax stamp of 1937 was brought to auction in the Nov. 21-22 sale conducted by Regency-Superior at the Chicagopex show.

The marijuana tax stamps were produced by overprinting United States documentary stamps of 1917 and were intended to enforce regulation of cannabis.

The unused vertical strip of four with a receipt tab at left was from the holdings that were deaccessioned by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., beginning in 2005.

Linn’s readers with long memories might recall the outcry from collectors in January 2004 when the museum announced that it planned to “deaccession and dispose of [burn] 7.3 million of the 7.8 million revenue stamps” from its vaults.

Readers responded to the news with dozens of letters urging the museum not to burn the stamps but to give collectors the opportunity to buy them. Eric Jackson, one of the world’s leading revenue stamp dealers, mounted an Internet campaign against the destruction, denouncing the proposal as “philatelic vandalism.”

Upon closer examination of the stamps in question, and, I would hope, in response to pleas from stamp collectors, the museum changed its plan to destroy the stamps and decided, instead, to “sell or give to other museums” 6.3 million stamps.

The $100 marijuana tax stamp of 1937 that sold for $510 at the Regency-Superior auction was one of the little gems that escaped the incinerator.

After reading Healey’s story about the Regency-Superior sale, I reached out to the museum to ask if any philatelic items had been reaccessioned since 2004. Museum registrar Ted Wilson graciously answered my questions.

Wilson said, “The revenue stamps were a unique situation. They were transferred to the Smithsonian by the Treasury Department in large quantities with the understanding that the duplicates would be either destroyed or sold for the benefit of the national philatelic collection.”

Wilson said the museum “received as many as 50,000 copies of each stamp.”

The museum contracted with the auction house Matthew Bennett International to sell some of the stamps in two separate auctions. The first took place Feb. 12, 2005, and the second on Sept. 30, 2006, in New York City.

Wilson said a third and final sale has yet to take place. Other priorities have taken precedent, including building the prestigious William H. Gross Gallery and processing the Postmaster General Collection.

“Plus we thought it might be good thing to pause a bit after releasing so many stamps in the second sale,” Wilson said.

He said the auction house for the third sale has not been selected. Wilson assured me that none of the revenue stamps has been destroyed.

I asked Wilson how the museum determines that items should be deaccessioned. He explained: “Generally speaking, items from the collection are considered for possible deaccession when one or more of the following criteria are met:

“The items are duplicative (in quantities well beyond what the museum normally collects).

“The items no longer fall within the scope of the national collection.

“The items have deteriorated beyond use.”

Wilson continued: “The museum has a collections committee to review proposed new accessions as well as potential deaccessions. The decision to deaccession items must be by unanimous vote and, depending on the scope of the deaccession, may require additional review by senior Smithsonian management.”

He said, “The revenue stamp deaccession required the highest level of review and was ultimately approved by the Smithsonian Board of Regents.”

Wilson added, “The decision to deaccession a collection item is only the first step in a lengthy process. The museum must also decide the appropriate method of disposal for the deaccessioned item(s), which can include returning the item(s) to the original donor; transferring to another Smithsonian museum; donating to another museum; sale; or in rare instances, destruction.”

Wilson said that “aside from the duplicate revenue stamps, the museum has not recently deaccessioned any other philatelic items.”