Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), the nation’s third president, is portrayed on the 50-cent stamp. Jefferson studied law at the College of William and Mary and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress. At age of thirty-three, Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence. He succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France in 1785 and served as secretary of state in President Washington’s cabinet.
Breaking with the Hamilton’s Federalists, Jefferson assumed leadership of the Republicans, who opposed a strong central government. In 1796 he became vice president under John Adams and was elected president in 1800. Jefferson’s notable successes include reducing the national debt and fighting the Barbary Coast pirates, but he is most celebrated for writing the Declaration of Independence and the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. His brilliance encompassed a vast range of topics and skills, not the least of which were architecture and botany.
No other American except Washington, Franklin, and Lincoln has been honored more frequently on U.S. stamps than Thomas Jefferson.
The 50-cent orange stamp was issued March 23, 1903, as a sheet stamp printed from plates of two hundred and sold in panes of one hundred stamps with gauge 12 perforations. The stamp was designed by R. Ostrander Smith from the 1805 Edgehill Portrait by Gilbert Stuart. It was engraved by George F. C. Smillie (portrait), Robert F. Ponickau (frame), and George U. Rose, Jr. (lettering and numerals).
The 50-cent Jefferson stamp was frequently used to pay multiples for first-class shipments of domestic inter-bank currency and coin. The stamp also franked large foreign letter rate parcels.