Arago: First Bureau Issues (1894-1898)

First Bureau Issues (1894-1898)

As the first postage stamps issued by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Series of 1894 holds a unique position in U.S. philately. Generations of collectors have referred to the series as the 'First Bureau Issue'. The stamp designs were the legacy from the American Bank Note Company dies, to which the Bureau added 'triangles' in the upper corners. Until July 1894, when the first stamps of the series was issued, private companies had printed all postage stamps under contracts with the Post Office Department.

Series of 1894 stamps are categorized in three groups based primarily on whether or not watermarked paper was used and on color. The series includes thirteen denominations, ranging from one cent to five dollars.

Issued in July 1894, the first denomination of the first group was the 6-cent Garfield stamp. Most of the other stamps were issued in the fall of 1894, though the 8-cent Sherman was not issued until March 1895. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing issued all stamps in this first group on unwatermarked paper, just as the American Bank Note Company had done.

A decision was made in 1895 to print stamps on watermarked paper. Series of 1894 stamps that had only recently appeared on unwatermarked paper now appeared again on paper with a double-line USPS watermark. They were the first postage stamps printed on watermarked paper and constitute the second group of stamps in the First Bureau Issue.

The third group in the First Bureau Issue includes stamps whose colors were changed to conform to Universal Postal Union regulations. The 1-cent Franklin was changed from blue to green and the 5-cent Grant from chocolate to blue. In order to avoid confusing postal clerks and the public, the 10-cent Webster, previously printed in green, was reissued in brown and orange brown, and the 15-cent Clay, previously printed in blue, was reissued in olive green.