US Stamps

George Washington versus Benjamin Franklin: who’s first?

May 3, 2021, 5 AM

George Washington was described as “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” by his friend Henry Lee in his eulogy.

But Washington is second on a United States stamp. The 10¢ black of 1847, pictured in Figure 1, is Scott 2 in the listings of the Scott Specialized Catalogue of United States Stamps and Covers.

Washington is preceded by Benjamin Franklin on every series of stamps issued by the United States from 1847 to 1954.

Figure 2 shows Franklin on the first U.S. stamp, the 1847 5¢ issue (Scott 1).

Figure 3 shows another example where Franklin received first honors: on the 1¢ stamp (Franklin) and the 2¢ stamp (Washington) of the 1902 definitive stamp series (Scott 300-301).

One might posit that assigning a higher face value to Washington shows more respect.

But then consider the Third Bureau Issue of 1908-22, which begins with Franklin on the 1¢ stamp and Washington on the 2¢ and greater. But in 1912, Washington replaced Franklin on the 1¢, and the higher values from 8¢ to $5 depict Franklin.

After the 1954 series, Franklin disappears from U.S. definitives until he re-emerges on the 7¢ of 1972, which is a higher face value than the 5¢ Washington of 1966-67, with which it is often classified.

There is one exception to the Franklin first rule, but we have to move away from regular postage to find it.

Stamps were issued in 1865 for prepayment of postage on bulk shipments of newspapers and periodicals.

Scott PR1 and Scott PR2 show Washington on the 5¢ and Franklin on the 10¢. Abraham Lincoln is honored on the remaining value, the 25¢ (Scott PR3). These three stamps are shown in Figure 4.

Something else is unusual about the newspaper and periodical stamps. Both Arabic and Roman numerals are shown on the 5¢ and 10¢ stamps, while Roman numerals are not used on the 25¢. I guess that “XXV” would not have been aesthetically pleasing.

Compare the joint use of Arabic and Roman numerals on Scott PR1 and Scott PR2 with the first regular postage stamps (in Figures 1 and 2), on which only Arabic numerals are used on the 5¢ and only Roman numerals are used on the 10¢.

For some things there are just no explanations.

Cartoon contest

The Made in America pane of 12 stamps issued in 2013 is intriguing from many perspectives. One image is particularly striking — the man in the miner’s hard hat who seems to be in some sort of tunnel, up to his armpits in muck. See the commemorative forever stamp (Scott 4801g) in Figure 5 that will serve as the July cartoon caption contest.

All 12 stamps are based on photographs, and though they might be from what my kids like to call “the olden days,” I wonder if any of the subjects were still living when the stamps were issued last August.

Whether they were or not, I would like you to don the miner’s hard hat and picture yourself as the man in the design. Consider what you might be thinking about your work, the situation you are dealing with, building a nation, philately or anything else.

Two prizes will be given: one each for the best philatelic and nonphilatelic lines.

The important thing is to use your sense of humor, because entries with a humorous twist have the best chance of winning a prize.

Put your entry (or entries) on a postcard if possible and send it to me, John Hotchner, Cartoon Contest, care of Linn’s Editor, Box 29, Sidney, OH 45365; or e-mail it to Be sure to include your mailing address.

For each winner, the prize will be the book Linn’s Stamp Identifier, published by Linn’s (a retail value of $12.99), or a 13-week subscription to Linn’s (a new subscription or an extension). To be considered for a prize, entries must reach Linn’s no later than July 28.

Why not enter now while you’re thinking about it?