US Stamps

John M. Hotchner

Reprints made of fake stamps created for use in movies in the 1940s

February 16, 2018 10:00 AM

  • A complete set of the so-called “movie stamps” created for Hollywood use in the 1940s consists of six stamps, perf and imperf, in three colors: red, blue and green. The stamps were used in the 1946 film A Letter for Evie.
  • While the Secret Service was concerned that the phony stamps created for use as movie props might be used to defraud the Post Office Department, the only usage reported to the author is this philatelic creation.
  • Cinderella stamps first used in the 1946 film A Letter for Evie bear a striking resemblance to the 1913 5¢ parcel post design. This parcel post stamp was no longer in use by that time.

U.S. Stamp Notes — By John M. Hotchner

Shown with this column are items that look like stamps, but they are actually  cinderella stamps that were  created in the early 1940s for use as props in movies. Red, blue and green examples are known imperforate and perf­orated gauge 11½.

These props have been nicknamed the “movie stamps.”

According to articles in the philatelic press in mid-1945, samples of these movie stamps were offered to those who submitted an addressed, stamped envelope to Bill O’Hara, described as a “tax accountant for a number of studios.”

A follow-up article in Stamps a year later stated that O’Hara received and filled 488 requests.

Although O’Hara had requested that the recipients not use them as United States postage stamps, one of them did, sending himself a cover bearing no other stamp but the movie stamp.

The cover came to the attention of the U.S. Post Office Department, and led to the United States Secret Service paying a visit to O’Hara. To make a long story short, this led to the confiscation of all the remaining movie stamps and printing plates.

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In a Cinderella Scene column in the Dec. 31, 1984, issue of Linn’s, Jim Czyl indicated that O’Hara was the person behind the stamps.

O’Hara came up with the idea and designed the stamps after he determined that the use of U.S. stamps in film close-ups could not be guaranteed to be in compliance with the Post Office Department’s detailed rules.

The first use of the movie stamp was in a 1946 MGM film titled A Letter for Evie, directed by Jules Dassin and starring Marsha Hunt (the title character Evie O’Connor), John Carroll (Edgar “Wolf” Larson), Hume Cronyn (John Phineas McPherson) and Spring Byington (Mrs. McPherson).

John Swanson of Mission Viejo, Calif., came up with this description from Movies on TV, edited by Steven H. Scheuer: “Fair, Grade B film using the familiar plot about the man who sends his handsome friend’s picture to the girl he has been courting by mail. Hume Cronyn is excellent as the deceiver.”

Swanson also has a small filmstrip excerpt from the movie that shows a letter from Evie O’Conner in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Pfc. John O. McPherson at Camp Milburn, Texas.

The stamp is canceled in reverse, with the circular date­stamp obscuring much of the stamp design, and wavy lines trailing to the left of the circular datestamp.

Herman “Pat” Herst Jr., in his writings, told the story of a New York dealer who obtained a small quantity of the movie stamps in the early 1950s. The dealer advertised them, and had sold more than 100 sets before the authorities moved in and seized the remainder of his stock.

Asked to produce the names of the buyers, the dealer either refused or could not do so, and the Secret Service let the matter drop.

Czyl’s column notes that the stamps have been reprinted or forged.

He wrote, “What I consider to be the genuine stamps are printed in light shades of red, blue and green, and are found on a horizontal lined dull yellow gum.”

As for the reprints or forgeries, Czyl reported that they were printed in deep rich, bright shades on thin, uncoated paper with shiny, gum varying from white to yellowish. However, examples in green on a slightly glazed paper can be found

Springer’s Handbook of North American Cinderella Stamps Including Taxpaid Revenues (1985) throws us a bit of a curve in stating that the movie stamps are perf 12¾.

I have a set of the reprints, and the green stamp from the original printing of these movie stamps. All are perforated gauge 11½. Could there be another reprint? I’d bet so.

I’ve now seen about a dozen examples of various colors, ranging from near pastels to quite dark.

Springer values all varieties at $2 per stamp, but correspondents noted that they have paid as much as $75 for a set of six (perf and imperf). That seems high to me, but complete sets are not easy to find.

The set seems to have attained the status of “forgers’ delight,” since offerings at auction and what I’ve seen at bourses are undifferentiated as to whether the items are original or reprints. Let the buyer beware.

I’ve seen only one example of these cinderellas used on cover.

Shown nearby, it is clearly a philatelic creation that never went through the mail. I’d be surprised if any of the cinderellas ever successfully made it through the mail in period.

Though the Secret Service was arguably right to seize the remaining examples, the movie stamps don’t really match up well with any regular postage stamps of the 1940s. They do mimic the 1913 5¢ parcel post issue featuring a mail train, but those stamps were no longer in circulation in the 1940s.