The Third Bureau Issue, commonly known as the Washington-Franklins Head Issue (or simply the Washington-Franklins) appeared in late 1908. Before the last of these stamps was issued in early 1922, approximately two hundred and fifty different stamps were issued, all bearing the likeness of either George Washington or Benjamin Franklin. Just five illustrations are needed for all these different stamps.
To the casual observer, many of these stamps appear identical. However, the subtle differences in watermark, perforation, and method of printing make the series one of the most challenging definitives to collect. All the stamps were printed on flat plat presses with the exception of several coil stamps and experimental sheet stamps printed on the rotary press late in the life of the series. Between 1918 and 1920, several sheet stamps were also produced by offset printing.
The single most notable feature of this series is its use of only two images, those of Washington and Franklin. This was a radical departure from the trend to expand the number of individuals portrayed on stamps. Not since the first two postage stamps of 1847 had only Washington and Franklin appeared on the nation’s definitive stamps.