US Stamps

The appeal of this Civil War-era proprietary stamp will never die

Dec 13, 2017, 4 AM
The United States 1¢ and 4¢ Holman Liver Pad Co. private die proprietary revenue stamps (Scott RS126a-RS127a) are a good buy at the 2018 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers

Tip of the Week — By Henry Gitner and Rick Miller

There is no denying the appeal of private die proprietary stamps, known to collectors as match and medicine stamps. The often whacky-sounding products and sometimes whimsical designs executed in classical fashion readily catch the eye and engage the interest of the curious.

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To help pay for the Civil War, the Revenue Act of 1862 levied taxes on a host of products, including patent medicines and matches. Stamps were needed to show payment of the taxes. Manufacturers who designed and produced dies at their own expense for printing the stamps received a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent. Many leapt at the opportunity because it allowed the tax stamps to serve a double purpose as advertising material.

The 1¢ and 4¢ Holman Liver Pad Co. stamps (Scott RS126a-RS127a) are among the most intriguing. Dr. George W. Holman departed from treatments taken by mouth. He produced pads to be worn under the clothing, filled with medicine to be absorbed directly through the skin.

The stamp design shows the good doctor, naked to the waist and wearing one of his liver pads affixed to his body with straps and belts. Holman claimed that the medicine in his pad would cure malaria, jaundice, dyspepsia, rheumatism, neuralgia and sea sickness.

The 2018 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers values the 1¢ stamp at $22.50 and the 4¢ stamp at $11. These are fair prices for very fine, somewhat faulty but reasonably attractive examples with faults not visible from the face.