US Stamps

U.S. classic stamp designs reappear on Classics Forever set

Apr 28, 2021, 2 AM

By Michael Baadke

As part of its seven-day series of new stamp issues for World Stamp Show-NY 2016, the United States Postal Service is reaching back to the 19th century to recreate six stamps in a set it is calling Classics Forever.

The new stamps have engraved designs and are intaglio-printed to make them similar to the originals. Details of how the designs were reproduced were not immediately available from the Postal Service, and there is no listing for an engraver or portrait artist in the technical details published by the Postal Service.

Three of the stamps pay tribute to George Washington, two feature Benjamin Franklin, and one honors Abraham Lincoln.

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The stamps will be issued June 1 during the stamp show at the Javits Center in New York City. The dedicating official for the Postal Service will be Gary C. Reblin, USPS new products and innovation vice president.

Entrance to the stamp show is free, and the 11 a.m. ceremony is open to the public.

The six stamps are all nondenominated (47¢) forever stamps. The “forever” wording might be difficult to see on the preliminary designs pictured here, which were provided by the Postal Service. 

Each design shown has had the word “forever” obliterated by a large curved line, which most likely will not appear on the actual stamps when they are issued.

The “forever” inscription replaces the denominations that were shown on the original stamps when they were issued.

The six new stamps all have die-cut simulated perforations and are self-adhesive. 

Some of the earlier stamps that used the original designs were issued imperforate.

The first of the six stamps features a reproduction of the black 1851 12¢ Washington (Scott 17, 36, 36B and 44). Second is the blue 1851 1¢ blue Franklin (5, 5A, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 8A, 9, 18, 19, 19b, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 24b, 40).

The stamps in the second row of the six-stamp pane represent the 1860 24¢ gray lilac or blackish violet Washington (Scott 37 and 45, but apparently printed in black on the new stamp), and the 1860 90¢ blue Washington (39 and 47).

The final two stamps feature the designs of the 1866 15¢ black Lincoln (Scott 77, 85F, 91, 98, 108), and the 1861 1¢ blue Franklin (63, 63c, 85A, 86, 92, 102).

The 1861 1¢ blue Franklin with an impressed Z grill (Scott 85A) is one of America’s rarest stamps, valued at $3 million in the 2016 Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers.

The new stamps are bordered in the pane on four sides by framed text and ornaments, with the words “Classics Forever” at top and bottom, and “The Classic Era” at left and right.

Selvage outside of the inner frame also shows decorative elements.

“The selvage is composed of postal cancellations and script from envelopes contemporaneous with the stamps,” according to the Postal Service. “These elements are arranged on a buff-colored background with a textured look to evoke stationery of the period.”

It appears to be unlikely that these stamps will be sold through U.S. post offices.

According to information published in the May 5 USPS Postal Bulletin, “The Classics Forever stamps will be available for purchase at the World Stamp Show on June 1, 2016. The stamps can also be purchased through the following channels: The Postal Store website or our toll-free number, 800-782-6724. These stamps will not be available for purchase at Postal Retail Units.”

The Postal Service did not respond to Linn’s questions about the Postal Bulletin statement.

These new stamps are certainly not the first to reproduce images of classic issues.

At the Washington 2006 international show 10 years ago, collectors saw the release of a souvenir sheet of three stamps reproducing the $1, $2 and $5 stamps of the 1922-25 definitive series (Scott 4075).

The 1947 Centenary International Philatelic Exhibition in New York City was announced with a two-stamp souvenir sheet that showed designs of the 1847 5¢ Franklin and 10¢ Washington stamps in new colors (Scott 948).

A pane of six $2 stamps issued in 2013 (Scott 4806)features the design of the 1918 24¢ Jenny Invert airmail error stamp.

The Postal Service is offering a 10-pane press sheet of 60 stamps with die cuts, which will sell for $28.20, with 8,000 sheets available.

Technical details and first-day cancel ordering information for the new Classics Forever stamps can be found below.

Nondenominated (47¢) Classics Forever forever stamps

FIRST DAY— June 1, 2016; city— New York, N.Y., and nationwide.

DESIGN: designer, art director and typographer— Antonio Alcala, Alexandria, Va.; modelers— Michelle Finn and Sandra Lane.

PRINTING: process— intaglio, offset; printer and processor— Banknote Corporation of America, Browns Summit, N.C.; press— Alprinta 74; inks— intaglio black, intaglio blue; Pantone Matching System 9180 cream, PMS 4545 beige, PMS 7528 tan, PMS 7530 gray, PMS 488 flesh, warm gray, PMS 8 gray; paper— phosphor tagged, block tagging; gum— self-adhesive; issue quantity— 18 million stamps; format— pane of six, from 60-subject cylinders; size— 0.77 inches by 1.05 inches (image); 0.91 inches by 1.19 inches (overall); 4.75 inches by 6.5 inches (full pane); 24.25 inches by 13.125 inches (press sheet); plate numbers— none; marginal markings— “Classics Forever,” “The Classic Era” (stamp side); “©2016 USPS,” USPS logo, bar code 586800 in two positions, plate position diagram, promotional text (back side); USPS item No.— 586804.

First-day cancel ordering information

Standard ordering instructions apply. Collectors requesting first-day cancels are encouraged to purchase their own stamps and affix them to envelopes. The first-day cover envelopes should be addressed for return (a removable label may be used), and mailed in a larger envelope addressed to Classics Forever Stamps, Special Events Coordinator, 380 W. 33rd St., New York, NY 10199-9998.

Requests for first-day cancels must be postmarked by Aug. 1.

The Postal Service’s set of six uncacheted first-day covers for the Classics Forever stamps is item 586816 at $5.46. USPS order numbers for stamps and FDCs also appear in Linn’s 2016 U.S. Stamp Program.


Six classic United States stamps reproduced for the 21st century

The United States Postal Service provided the following background information about the six classic stamps recreated in the Classics Forever stamp set that will be issued June 1 during World Stamp Show-NY 2016.

1851 George Washington, originally 12 cents

Several unusual aspects attract collectors to the George Washington stamp released in 1851. Although its original 12-cent denomination paid the way for certain heavy domestic letters sent afar, such use was uncommon and the rationale for a stamp of this particular value is not well understood. Envelopes bearing this Washington stamp tend to carry it in combination with other denominations or, more often, paired to cover the 24-cent rate for letters to the United Kingdom. The 12-cent stamp was sometimes cut in half to pay six cents of postage until the practice of using bisected stamps was prohibited.

Three printing plates were evidently created, but no trace remains of the second plate nor of any stamps printed by it. The tight spacing on the first plate was typical of the imperforate stamps it produced. Stamps from this plate were eventually perforated, with the perforations violating the edges of the design. The individual stamp images on the plate labeled “Plate 3” were spaced to accommodate perforation once that innovation came to U.S. stamps.

1851 Benjamin Franklin, originally one cent

Only George Washington has been honored on more U.S. stamps than Benjamin Franklin. The Franklin stamp introduced in 1851 was commonplace in its original use, sold for a penny, affixed to advertising circulars and local letters, and printed in great quantities. Although a single stamp design was intended, advanced collectors differentiate many types. Intricate engraved designs were not consistently transferred to the printing plates, so the scrolled ornamentation varies in detail from stamp to stamp. As plates wore, fine features became muted, then were re-emboldened as engravers scraped out grooves. Tiny curls appeared in some fraction of stamps —  believed to be artifacts of fine threads left behind by printers’ polishing cloths. Ink batches ranged from pale blue to indigo. Perforations were added in 1857. By studying such variations, some experienced and keen-eyed philatelists can assign a single stamp to its corresponding plate and to the specific position on that plate’s grid of 200 stamps. These variations also help collectors narrow the stamp’s period of origin within the decade-long press run. This stamp-collecting specialty, known as plating, requires time, patience, and the resources to obtain abundant stamps. Collectors who plate this stamp have kept it in high demand.

The profile of Franklin was engraved for Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co., the printing firm that held the exclusive stamp-printing contract for a decade starting in 1851. The likeness is based on a bust carved by French sculptor Jean-Jacques Caffieri, a likeness Franklin himself favored. Fittingly, this complex stamp honoring the nation’s first Postmaster General continues to captivate the most advanced collectors.

1860 George Washington, originally 24 cents

The need for a 24-cent denomination, previously met by doubling the 12-cent Washington stamp, was realized in 1860 with another stamp honoring Washington. This was the first U.S. stamp issued exclusively with perforations. Like the 12-cent stamp of 1851, this engraved likeness is based on Gilbert Stuart’s iconic Washington portraiture. Here Washington faces a bit to the viewer’s right, a mirror image of the original Stuart portrait. Ink colors vary and are referred to by collectors as lilac and grey-lilac. Some stamps exist in red-lilac but were never in circulation. Those are believed to be printer’s proofs.

Though the entire press run of 1860 Washington stamps was modest — estimated at about 736,000 — a great many went unsold and were recalled by the Post Office Department, then destroyed.

1860 George Washington, originally 90 cents

Washington is honored once again on the 90-cent issue of 1860. The engraved portrait on this rarity, widely considered one of the most beautiful stamps of the period, is based on a John Trumbull painting, made circa 1792, that portrays General Washington in 1776. Trumbull had served as a personal aide to Washington during the Revolution and went on to share an artists’ studio with Gilbert Stuart. At 90 cents, this was by far the highest denomination to date, a stamp meant to facilitate large international mailings.

The useful life of this stamp was less than a year. Mail service between the Union and the Confederacy ended as the Southern states seceded. A grace period during which older stamps could be traded for the new 1861 issues was cut short as tensions escalated into civil war. All stamps issued prior to the summer of 1861 were deemed invalid. The tactic of demonetizing the older issues rendered stockpiled stamps worthless and prevented black-market sales by Southerners to Northerners, transactions that would have helped to bankroll the Rebel cause. Following the war, piles of these obsolete stamps kept by Southern postmasters found their way to dealers. An unusual consequence of this is that mint-condition examples remain more common than genuinely used ones, so collectors must be wary to avoid faked cancellations on this 90-cent Washington, and authenticate its provenance.

1866 Abraham Lincoln, originally 15 cents

In a single momentous week in April 1865, Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House and Lincoln was assassinated. The Post Office Department honored the martyred president with a grey-black 15-cent stamp. Issued in 1866, it is considered by many collectors to be the world’s first mourning stamp. Although it was not officially designated as anything other than a general release, the intent behind its issuance was unquestionable, as no previous stamp had been released so quickly after the death of its subject.

The beautifully engraved likeness is based on a photograph by Christopher Smith German, whose studios were located in Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois. The source photograph is one of the first in which Lincoln, then president-elect, revealed his newly grown beard.

It is a lesser-known aspect of Lincoln’s career that he, like Benjamin Franklin, served as a postmaster. Legend has it that young postmaster Lincoln would deliver mail — stashed in his hat — as he crossed paths with residents of New Salem, Illinois. His tenure as a village postmaster was less illustrious than Franklin’s national position, but the job familiarized Lincoln, then in his mid-twenties, with local citizens whose trust he earned in his position as postmaster and whose support he would come to rely upon as a politician.

1861 Benjamin Franklin, originally one cent

When pre-Civil War stamps were demonetized, replacements were needed. The National Bank Note Company won the exclusive contract to engrave and print stamps in 1861, a contract previously held by the firm of Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Company. National Bank Note produced a striking new design for the one-cent Benjamin Franklin stamp, released August 1861. Its portrait was based on a bust by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The stamp was printed in an inadvertent variety of blues including shades that collectors describe as bright, deep, pale, and milky.

Dozens of other Franklin stamps have followed, as the U.S. Postal Service takes great pride in its own Founding Father. Franklin was a communications genius who revolutionized mail service in the Colonies, served as the new nation’s first Postmaster General, surveyed routes, standardized postal rates, and greatly sped delivery. His creation of a postal system safe from British control was among his greatest contributions to the American Revolution.

Stamps of this 1861 release are the oldest U.S. stamps still valid for use on mail, but the famously frugal-minded Franklin would undoubtedly advise against using the valuable originals for postage.