In 1476 Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) and his brother Bartolomeo traveled to Lisbon, Portugal, determined to enhance their seafaring, navigation, and mapmaking skills. Within a few years, the visionary Columbus believed it possible to sail west from Europe to Asia, a distance he calculated as 2,400 nautical miles. Such a route, he argued, would eliminate the need of sailing south around the tip of Africa, a long and dangerous trip. To prove his calculation correct, he needed financial backing. In his search for a sponsor, Columbus appealed to King John II of Portugal, who refused. He then appealed to the Spanish court of Queen Isabella. While waiting for a summons from the Spanish court, he lobbied unsuccessfully for support from England's Henry VII. Isabella initially rejected his proposal, but upon urging from a trusted advisor, she reconsidered. This second review led to the Spanish monarchy's granting financial and material support to Christopher Columbus for his expedition across the Atlantic.
The image of Columbus soliciting Isabella’s aid presumably derived from a January 2, 1492, description. In 1884 Vaclav Brozik completed a painting titled ‘Columbus at the Court of Ferdinand and Isabella’ which, less than a decade later, inspired Alfred S. Major's image for the 5-cent Columbian Exposition Issue. The primary purpose of the 5-cent stamp was to pay the Universal Postal Union half-ounce international rate. American Bank Note Company printed a total 35,248,250 stamps of this issue.