The nation’s sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865), is portrayed on the 5-cent stamp. Lincoln’s fame as a magnanimous leader is unequalled in American history. No other American except Washington and Franklin has been honored more frequently on U.S. stamps than Abraham Lincoln. The international (U.P.U.) letter postage rate was five cents when the Series 1902 was in use. It was decided that Lincoln’s image would best represent the nation on mail sent around the world. He had appeared on the 4-cent stamp of the First Bureau Issue.
The 5-cent Lincoln stamp was issued January 20, 1903, as a sheet stamp printed from plates of four hundred and sold in panes of one hundred stamps with gauge 12 perforations. In late 1906 the stamps were also made available in imperforate full sheets of four hundred for use by private manufacturers of vending and affixing machines, who applied their own designed perforations. The Lincoln stamp was one of three experimental endwise coil stamps introduced by the Post Office Department in February 1908. These experimental coils were issued in limited quantities and are today highly prized twentieth-century rarities.
The 5-cent blue stamp was designed by R. Ostrander Smith after a photograph by Matthew Brady. The Lincoln vignette is shown between two robed female figures holding flags to symbolize the reunited nation. The stamp was engraved by George F. C. Smillie (portrait and decorative figures), Robert F. Ponickau (frame), and John U. Rose, Jr., and Lyman F. Ellis (lettering and numerals).
The primary use of the 5-cent Lincoln stamp was to pay the U.P.U. letter rate. It was also used in multiple formats or with other stamps to cover existing rates. Two 5-cent stamps could pay the ten-cent special delivery fee and the registry fee when that was increased to ten cents November 1, 1909.