Arago: 1-cent Franklin Kansas & Nebraska Overprints

1-cent Franklin Kansas & Nebraska Overprints

American patriot, inventor, and first postmaster general Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) appears on the Fourth Bureau Issue's 1-cent stamp. An image of Franklin had appeared continually on the lowest value US stamp since 1847, when the US issued its first stamps.

No new engraving was made for the vignette of this stamp. Rather, Marcus Baldwin's engraving for the Washington-Franklin Heads Series was reused. Baldwin modeled his work after a photograph of a plaster bust of Franklin created by French artist Jean Jacques Caffieri's in 1777. Caffieri was one of Louis XV's court sculptors and died in 1792. The stamp's frame was designed by Clair Aubrey Huston and engraved by Edward M. Hall and Joachim C. Benzing.

The 1-cent Franklin Fourth Bureau, which patrons commonly used on postcards, first appeared in 1923.

As early as 1899, the Post Office Department had considered marking stamps to help identify those stolen from post offices. Printing technology during the early years of the twentieth century, however, made implementation of the idea unfeasible.

The development of the rotary press changed that. In 1929 a postal inspector again advanced the idea of marking stamps, stressing that $200,000 worth of stolen stamps had been "fenced" the previous year. His argument convinced postal officials, and a plan was formulated to overprint stamps with the names for all forty-eight states for distribution to all but the very largest post offices.

Officials at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing objected to the plan as impractical. They agreed, however, to overprint stamps for Kansas and Nebraska (in the territory of the inspector who devised the plan). The Bureau overprinted eleven stamps for each state, the 1-cent through 10-cent values of the Fourth Bureau Issue, perforated 11x10.5. All post offices in Kansas and Nebraska received overprinted stamps except for Kansas City, Topeka, and Wichita, Omaha, and Lincoln. Although the stamps went on sale at the Philatelic Sales Agency in Washington on May 1, 1929, known use in Kansas and Nebraska occurred as early as April 15.

The overprinted stamps created mass confusion. Although the stamps were valid for use anywhere in the country, some postmasters thought they could be used only in Kansas and Nebraska. Others thought they were precancels. False reports of stolen stamps circulated. The failed experiment was cancelled in less than a year, and the Bureau never overprinted stamps for the other forty-six states.

Stamps exist with counterfeit Kansas and Nebraska overprints. Genuine overprints have gum with only one gum breaker and striated ridges. This simple examination will help identify many counterfeits.

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