The Large Bank Notes were introduced in 1870 to replace the 1869 series which was very unpopular with the stamp buying public. The Large Bank Notes were to remain in use for twenty years and involve three different printers. The 1870 series was printed by the National Bank Note Company (NBNC). This series was issued both with and without grills. In 1873, the Continental Bank Note Company (CBNC) was awarded the contract to print stamps. CBNC used the same plates as NBNC and secret marks were added to distinguish the different printings. It is not known whether NBNC intentionally added the marks to ensure that their work would be distinguishable from CBNC work or vice versa. In 1879, the American Bank Note Company (ABNC) began the printing after they acquired the CBNC. During the 1880s, ABNC re-engraved most of the stamps in the series.
The grilled issue consisted of 11 values (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 12, 15, 24, 30 and 90 cents) on white wove paper that was thin to medium thick. Two different grills, H and I, were used. The H grill measures 11 to 13 points wide by 14 to 16 points tall, approximately 10 by 12 millimeters. The H grill is found on all values in the series. The I grill by contrast is only found on 1 cent through 15 cent values except for the 10 cent value. The I grill is 10 to 11 points wide by 10 to 13 points tall, approximately 8.5 by 10 millimeters, and it is rarer than the H grill. All values were also issued without grills. It is not clear exactly what the sequence of issue was as some values earliest known use is for the without grill variety.
The CBNC initially consisted of the same 11 values as the NBNC. As previously stated the same plates were used by CBNC as NBNC. It is thought that all values were secretly marked to allow the printer to be distinguished. However, secret marks have only been identified on the values through 15 cents and the 30 cent value. Printings of the 24 cent value by CBNC are known to have been issued but only one has ever been certified as being a CBNC printing. That is because it is on ribbed paper and NBNC did not use ribbed paper. In addition to vertically and horizontally ribbed paper, straw and silk papers were used. All CBNC issues except for the 24 and 90 cent values can be found with the J grill. It is suspected that these may be essays and not regularly issue and are quite scarce. The J grill measures 7 by 9.5 millimeters. In 1875, the two cent value was printed in a new color and a five cent value was issued to replace the 6 cent value. CBNC issues are generally on white wove paper that is thin to thick. The 1875 values are on yellowish wove paper. In 1875, the CBNC produced special printings on hard, white wove paper without gum. The initial issue reproduced the original 11 values, while the second issue reproduced the two new values. Both special printings were on hard, white wove paper without gum.
In 1879, the ABNC acquired the CBNC. The ABNC issued 9 values (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 10, 15, 30 and 90 cents) on soft porous paper using the CBNC plates which makes it rather difficult to say which printings should be attributed to the CBNC and ABNC. The generally accepted method is to associate those printings on soft paper to the ABNC. Between 1881 and 1883 and then again between 1887 and 1888 the low values were re-engraved, a four cent value was introduce, colors were changed and Washington moved to the two cent value. The color of the two high values was also changed. In 1880, special printings of 13 values were issued on soft porous paper without gum. Special printings of the 2 cent re-engraved value and the new four cent value were also produced in 1883 and 1885.
The subsequent high resolution scans are provided so as you read the text describing the “secret marks” added to numerous denominations by the Continental Bank Note Company, you will have an example to refer to (scans by J.H. Barwis, RA2164, montage by CJD).