Arago: 5000-dollar Washington

5000-dollar Washington

To help finance the American Civil War, in 1862 the federal government levied excise taxes on an array of business transactions and consumer goods. Payment of these taxes was to be evidenced by an adhesive revenue stamp affixed to the document or article. The end of the war did not mean an end to the taxes; the federal government did not pay-off the $2.7 billion dollar debt until 1883, after which it finally repealed the excise tax. During that time, three distinct revenue stamp series were used to pay the taxes.

The second series, printed by the Philadelphia firm of Joseph R. Carpenter and issued beginning in 1871, was projected to include a $5000 denomination. The reason for such a high-value stamp is unclear, but some scholars believe it was intended for use on railroad mortgage bonds. Whatever the purpose, the Bureau of the Internal Revenue ordered — and Carpenter delivered — an unknown number of trial color proofs in different combinations of orange, green, and black. The commissioner approved one of these, but the stamp was never placed into production, perhaps because of insufficient demand.

Twenty-six trial color proofs of the never-issued $5000 denomination are known to exist today. Each is unique, with slightly different color shades, combinations, sizes, and marginal inscriptions. Eleven of them are part of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum's collection: eight in the Clarence H. Eagle Collection of Revenues, Proofs, and Essays; one in the Boutwell presentation album [seen here]; and two additional specimens. Fifteen are in private hands.

For more information:

Kingsley, Thomas C. The Legendary Persian Rug. Pacific Palisades, CA: Castenholz & Sons, 1993.

Turner, George T. Essays and Proofs of United States Internal Revenue Stamps. Arlington, MA: Bureau Issues Association, 1974.

Zerbonia, Ralph R. "The 26th $5,000.00 Revenue Proof!"

Additional Records