American Bank Note Company reused the engraved printing plates for U.S. postage stamps that it acquired when seven engraving and printing firms merged to form ABNCo in 1879. The plates had transferred from Continental Bank Note (CBNCo), and Continental had received all but one plate from the earlier federal stamp contractor, National Bank Note Company.
When CBNCo had possession of the plates, it had added secret, distinguishing marks to them to differentiate its issues from those of National Bank Note. The secret mark that it added to the 3-cent Washington plate designs can be found in the outline of the ribbon below the ‘R’ in the word ‘THREE.’ It is the heavy shading of the lower white border line of the larger ribbon.
Since the rate to send a half-ounce, first-class letter was three cents, this stamp most often paid the first-class domestic mail rate. Approximately 1,335,000,000 stamps of the 3-cent Washington were printed by American Bank Note Company. Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust of George Washington was the source for the design.