US Stamps

War derailed plans for 1898 Trans-Mississippi issue

Mar 13, 2023, 9 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

A bit of philatelic history is represented by the June 18, 1998, first-day cover in Figure 1, sent by Linn’s reader Will Davis of Casper, Wyo.

Let’s begin with the 1¢ green stamp at far right. It is the low value of the nine-stamp Trans-Mississippi set of 1898 (Scott 285-293). The vignette pictures Jacques Marquette on the Mississippi from a painting by Wilhelm Lamprecht.

Next to it, in the middle, is the 1¢ stamp from the commemorative issue of June 18, 1998 (Scott 3209), marking the centenary of the 1898 Trans-Mississippi stamp set.

The first question an observer might ask is why is the 100th anniversary stamp a bicolor when the original is not.

The stamps in the 1898 set were originally conceived as bicolor, with the vignettes in black. This was being executed through the design process until the USS Maine blew up and sank in Cuba’s Havana Harbor on Feb. 16, 1898.

War was declared, and the resulting Spanish-American War put unexpected demands on the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for revenue stamps and other war-related printing.

For this reason, the United States Post Office Department announced that while the design and subjects for the Trans-Mississippi issue had been firmed, the stamps would have to be printed in single colors because bicolors would have required twice the press time.

In 1997, as the Trans-Mississippi centennial issue was being considered, it was decided to picture the stamps in the way originally planned.

Certainly, the 1998 set is much more attractive as bicolors, as shown in the pane of nine with first-day cancels in Figure 2. Too bad the 1898 set could not have been done this way; it would have made quite a splash in the philatelic community.

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