Arago: Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson (1847-1851)

Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson (1847-1851)

Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson (RWH&E), one of the most prominent printing and engraving firms in nineteenth-century America, was the first to receive a government contract for designing and printing U.S. postage stamps. Though the firm's production was small—only two stamp Issues—its artistry set the standard for succeeding U.S. printing and engraving firms. The RWH&E issues were generally superior to the first stamps produced by other countries.

Ralph Rawdon established an engraving and printing firm in 1816 at Albany, New York. His younger brother, Freeman Rawdon, created his own independent firm sometime after 1825. Each partnered with other engravers—Ralph with Vistus Balch of Williamstown, Massachusetts (ca. 1818-1822) and then with Asahel Clark to form Rawdon, Clark, & Co. At the same time, Freeman partnered with Neziah Wright in 1828, establishing Rawdon, Wright, & Co. of New York City. On March 1, 1832, their two firms merged to become Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, & Company.

Tracy R. Edson joined the company as a business administrator at the time of this merger. Though he may have had training in engraving, he ran the operations of the firm’s New Orleans office until 1847. During the same period (1832-1846/47), he was largely responsible for establishing RWH&Co offices in Boston, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati (their stake in the western market, offering superior quality work at a relatively close distance).

Edson returned to the main office in New York City in 1847 to administer the entire firm, at which point his name was added to the company’s title and Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson won the United States government contract to print postage stamps (1847-1851). The transformations in managing partners and offices that began on March 1, 1832, when Edson joined, culminated in a final merger with seven other firms in 1858. The new, consolidated firm was named American Bank Note Company. RWH&E had the largest share in the new company (23.9 percent). Toppan, Carpenter & Co.—the second firm to receive the government contract for postage stamps (1851-1861)—held a 22.4 percent share. Of the five private firms that printed stamps for the United States during the Classic Period (1847-1893), RWH&E produced the fewest, but its seemingly small contribution left lasting effects on the American mail system and on philately.