The 1869 Pictorial Issue first became available at post offices in the United States in late March of 1869. This issue was to replace the 1861-1867 regular issue stamps. In soliciting proposals for a new issue of definitive postage stamps, the United States Post Office was careful to state, “The stamps must be prepared in such a manner that any attempt to remove them from a letter or packet will so mutilate them as to render them useless.” This was to prevent reuse. The grilling process, also called “embossing,” was a practice carried over from 1867 regular-issued stamps which were themselves the 1861-1866 designs with embossing added after printing. Then, as now, postal officials were concerned about revenue loss from the reuse of stamps. Grilling was the preferred solution in the 1869 era.
The issue was only available from early spring of 1869 until February 1870, a period of only 11 months, when it was replaced by the Bank Note Issue, again printed by the National Bank Note Company. This issue remained available for several years thereafter.
The stamps are nearly square. Three of the stamps, the 1¢ Benjamin Franklin, the 6¢ George Washington and the 90¢ Abraham Lincoln feature the familiar theme of portraits of past leaders. The 1¢ Franklin stamp is the only 19th Century United States stamp with a circular frame. The 2¢ Post Horse and Rider, 3¢ Locomotive and 12¢ S.S. Adriatic stamps all feature the theme of transportation of the mails, new for its day, and often repeated in future stamp series. The 10¢ Eagle and Shield and the 30¢ Shield Eagle and Flag stamps appeal to patriotism. It should be understood that the United States had just finished fighting the Civil War, and the nation was licking its wounds after 4.5 years of tumultuous fighting throughout the southern part of the United States. The 15¢ Landing of Columbus and the 24¢ Declaration of Independence stamps are the first portraits of American historical events on our nation’s stamps. The 15¢ Landing of Columbus exists in two different types with slightly different frame designs. However, a third type, the same as Type I, but without the fringe of brown shading lines around the vignette, was used for the 1875 reprint of the issue. The four high-value stamps of the set were the first U.S. stamps to be printed in two colors as stated above.
Though hard to believe, there are large mint pieces or blocks of each of the denominations, which still exist and come up for auction from time to time. Those blocks range from a block of 48 of the 1¢ stamp to a block of six of the 90¢ stamp as being the largest known multiples. The largest known multiple for the 24¢ stamps is a beautiful block of nine, which was recently auctioned in New York City. As for the Type I 15¢ stamp, there exists a mint block of nine but one used block of four which again was recently auctioned off in New York City.
Just as fancy cancellations were a part of a Postmaster’s whim in creating cancellations for its hometown, in the 1861-1867 era, fancy cancellations abound on the 1869 stamps. Many of those fancy cancellations are known to exist from many of the New England and Middle Atlantic States as well as from cities in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. The most famous group of fancy cancellations comes from Waterbury, Connecticut, and John Hill created those cancellations, carved in cork. The cancellations include the famous “Running Chicken” cancellation, lady in a bonnet, man smoking a pipe, holly sprigs, Christmas trees, shoes and a multitude of other items of clothing, items found in nature and the like. For further reading on the Waterbury fancy cancellations, the reader is referred to the Paul Rohloff book col