US Stamps

Light first-day cancels on 3¢ Harlan F. Stone stamp

May 20, 2020, 8 AM
The author’s miniature first-day cover for the 1948 3¢ Harlan F. Stone commemorative has a light imprint of the first-day cancel.

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

First-day cover collectors have probably noticed that it is hard to find a 1948 3¢ Harlan Fisk Stone (Scott 965) FDC with a dark cancellation.

Stone was being honored as a longtime Supreme Court justice. He served from 1925 to 1946, and he was chief justice from 1941 until his death in 1946.

I collect miniature FDCs, and my Stone example is shown here. I bought it hoping to replace it one day with a more presentable cancel.

Now I know why that may not be possible thanks to an article by his grandson and philatelist, Harlan F. Stone II. Titled “The Problems of the U.S. 1948 Stone Stamp,” the article was published in the May-June 2016 issue of the Collectors Club Philatelist, the journal of the Collectors Club.

The story of the Harlan F. Stone FDCs is a tale of problems, starting with the selection of Stone’s birthplace, Chesterfield, N.H., as the location for the first-day ceremony.

The local fourth-class post office was too small to deal with the influx of requests for first-day cancels. It was only an 8-by-12 foot partitioned section of a general store, not nearly large enough to handle what the Post Office Department expected would be requests for up to 500,000 first-day cancels.

The next candidate was Keene, N.H., 12 miles east of Chesterfield. But after it was pointed out that most Chesterfield mail went through Brattleboro, Vt., 9 miles west, that post office was chosen to handle the requests.

The Brattleboro postmaster was authorized to hire 66 temporary workers for two weeks to handle the rush.

Four men operated two machines in shifts throughout the first day. As Stone described it in his article, “They failed to monitor the quality of the ‘First Day of Issue’ imprints, turning out mostly faint impressions, many of them virtually unreadable.”

An official total of 362,170 Harlan F. Stone FDCs were serviced by the four men and three others using hand cancellers.

I will keep looking, though, hoping to find a better imprint than the one I have.

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