The initial issue of the Transportation Coil Series, the 18-cent Surrey was first available on May 18, 1981, at Notch, Missouri. A distinctly American vehicle, the surrey was adapted from the English Whitechapel cart. James B. Brewster and Company of New York modified and produced it in the United States. It usually had two seats and carried four passengers. The most desirable carriages had a canopy or a folding top, sometimes decorated with fringe, to provide some protection from the weather. The musical Oklahoma! featured a tune, familiar to many throughout the world, titled, "Surrey with the Fringe on Top."
When issued, the 18-cent Surrey paid the basic first-class letter rate, which lasted just seven months—from March 22, 1981, to October 30, 1981. There were 473 million stamps issued with overall tagging, and 207,801 covers were cancelled on the day of issue.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced the stamp on the Cottrell press using eighteen different plate numbers. The plate numbers alternated every twenty-four stamps. Stamps were issued in coils of one hundred, five hundred, and 3,000 stamps. Plate numbers 15 and 16 are most difficult to find in used condition. In strips of five or seven stamps, as they are most frequently collected, plate numbers 1, 3, and 4 are most difficult. The first ten plate numbers are found on first day covers.
The stamp was designed by David K. Stone of Port Washington, New York, and engraved by Thomas J. Bakos, who did the vignette, and Edward P. Archer, who did the lettering. Both worked for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.