7/02/2014 United States
“The First American”
That intellectual colossus, Benjamin Franklin earned the title of "The First American" as a spokesman in London for several colonies, for his early campaigning for colonial unity, and as the first United States Ambassador to France, America’s greatest ally. His other achievements are too great to list here but no study of the world’s greatest men would be complete without him.
It is no surprise that 57 years after his death he took pride of place on Americas first stamp.
Issued on the 1st July 1847, alongside a 10c black stamp depicting that other great American George Washington, the 5c Franklin is almost certainly the most popular of US stamps. There can only be one ‘first’ and for collectors of US this beautifully designed little stamp is it.
Unusually for an early classic this stamp is rarely plated (identified by its position on the printing plate) and no complete reconstruction made from individual examples exists.
The 5c Franklin was issued to prepay the half-ounce rate for letters travelling less than 300 miles. Undoubtedly envious glances had been cast across the ocean to Britain where a universal domestic rate covered the entire country but the problems of the American postal system far outweighed those of Britain’s. Vast distances had to be covered, some post offices handled just a few letters each year and the terrain could be infinitely more challenging (and expensive to overcome) than that encountered on the British Isles or continental Europe.
The banknote engravers Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson of New York printed the 1847 stamps and their initials can be seen on the bottom of each. The vignette, engraved by Asher B. Durant was taken from a portrait by James Longacre; a favourite with banknote designers at the time.
There were 22,000 impressions made from the plate, which consisted of two panes of 100, so 4,400,000 stamps were made although only around 3,700,000 were sold (contrast this with the 68,158,080 British Penny Blacks issued!)
Although the official day of issue was 1st July, in New York, only 11 cities received the new stamps that month, and the earliest known day of use is on a cover from New York dated 7th July.
The printers retained the plates after their contract expired and this was one reason that on the 1st July 1851 the 5c Franklin & 10c Washington stamps were declared invalid for postage although examples have been found used into the 1870’s.
During the period of manufacture between 1847 & 1851 a wide range of shades were produced as the science of ink production was somewhat inexact, although security printing technology had been established coloured inks were not a regular feature of banknote production and there was still a lot to learn, so colours on the 5c Franklin can range from black-brown to orange!