When the National Bank Note Company was founded in 1859, William Marshall was one of the first portrait engravers hired. By early 1860, Marshall was tasked with engraving a vignette for the upcoming 1861 Issue and sent to Boston to use Gilbert Stuart’s portrait painting of George Washington as his model for the new engraving.
This painting was one of two unfinished portraits of the Washingtons that Martha Washington had commissioned in 1796. She had intended them for the family home, Mount Vernon, but Stuart failed to deliver them. They had hung in the Boston Athenaeum from 1828 until 1874 in an exposition honoring the late artist. And when the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was built, the unfinished Stuart portraits were exhibited there on long-term loan. After a century of housing and exhibiting the portraits, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., were given the option to buy the two paintings. The two institutions now co-own the portraits.
The single 12-cent stamp typically paid the single-weight rate to England after the January 1, 1868, reduction. Before that date the rate would have required two 12-cent stamps. It was also used in combination with other denominations to fulfill larger weight and foreign destination rates. Approximately 7,314,000 stamps of the 12-cent Washington were printed by National Bank Note Company.