George Washington (1732-1799), Revolutionary War hero and first president of the United States, appears on the Fourth Bureau Issue's 2-cent stamp, the 'workhorse' stamp of this series. It was printed by the billions for use on first-class letters. Featuring Washington on this stamp perpetuated the tradition, begun in 1847, of portraying Washington on a stamp in current use by the Post Office Department.
No new engraving was made for the Washington vignette of this stamp. Rather, an existing engraving made for the preceding series of stamps, known as the Washington-Franklins Heads Series, was used. That engraving, done by Marcus Baldwin, was modeled from a bust created by Clark Mills in 1853. The Mills bust, however, was a reproduction of a bust sculpted by Jean Antoine Houdon at Washington's Mount Vernon, Virginia, home in 1785. Clair Aubrey Huston designed the stamp's frame, which was engraved by Edward M. Hall and Joachim C. Benzing.
The 2-cent Washington was first printed on the flat plate press and was issued on January 15, 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.