The 12-cent Washington of the 1851-1861 Issue was released in mid-1851. The Washington portrait was derived from the Gilbert Stuart painting. At the time of its printing, the 12-cent stamp was the highest U.S. denomination ever issued. It did not fulfill a single-weight rate. Rather, it paid the over-3,000-mile, double-weight rate or the quadruple-weight rate for a letter sent under 3,000 miles. The stamp was often used to pay the twenty-four-cent, single-weight rate to England.
There are many known bisects of this stamp that paid the six-cent single-weight rate. This usage was banned by the Post Office Department. If apprehended for an illegal use, the letter was considered unpaid, leaving a ten-cent unpaid fee for the recipient to cover.
All imperforate stamps dating from 1857 were printed from plate 1. From late 1859 to early 1860, another plate (plate 3) was used. At some point a plate 2 is assumed to have been created that had additional space between stamp designs for perforations, but there are no known stamps from this plate. The perforated plate 3 stamps can be distinguished from plate 1 stamps by the broken lines in the design's outer frame lines. Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co. printed approximately 2,500,000 imperforate stamps and 5,800,000 perforated stamps of the 12-cent issue.