The 5¢ and 10¢ stamps represent to most collectors the beginning of U.S. philately. (Postmasters’ Provisionals and Locals may have preceded this Issue, but their uses were generally restricted to a specific geographical region). Traditionally, the 1847 stamps occupied the first two spaces in albums, and to young collectors these spaces were almost certainly empty, due to their high catalog value. Such circumstances have created a certain mystique about the 1847 stamps and they hold a special place in the minds of many collectors of U.S. stamps, as they are the premiere issue and represent a genesis of sorts.

On March 3, 1847, the future of the U.S. postage stamp was cast. Congress voted and passed an Act to establish Post Roads as well as for other purpose’s. Effective July 1, 1847, the placement of an adhesive stamp on letter could prepay its necessary postage. With the authority vested in him by the statute to prepare postage stamps, Postmaster General Cave Johnson retained Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson (RWH&E), a New York City banknote engraver and printer for the task. His choice was likely premised on the fact that RWH&E was the prominent firm of their time and they had engraved and printed the New York Postmasters’ Provisional two years prior.

Of large part, the process by which the stamps of 1847 and nearly all early U.S. stamps for that matter, were engraved and printed was invented by Jacob Perkins, the founder of the famous British printing firm of Perkins, Bacon and Co. First, a die was made by engraving in reverse, a single image of the design.

This engraving was etched into soft steel and then hardened. An arc shaped band of soft steel called a transfer roll, was rocked repeatedly over the die, transferring the impression from the hardened steel die into the soft steel of the transfer roll. The image on the transfer roll was not in reverse. Next, a plate large enough to accommodate two side-by-side panes of 100 entries each (to be laid down with 10×10 entries), was held fast to a table. Although not conclusive, evidence indicates the transfer roll was placed above the left side of the plate and the impressions were rocked in one position at a time, starting at the top of the column and working downward, until all 200 transfers were made. These images were in reverse and the plate produced the positive image postage stamps.


Helpful Links
The Swedish Tiger’s US Stamp Site An illustrated Guide
Siegel Encyclopedia – 1847 IssueThe 1847 Issue – – A Brief Synopsis , by Calvet M. Hahn
An 1847 Cover to Think About, by Calvet M. Hahn
Certifiably Genuine? : Even The Experts Can—And Do—Change Their Minds, by Calvet M. Hahn
1847 Issue – Reexamining the Colors, by Calvet M. Hahn
1847 Issue – Cross-Border Postal History, by Calvet M. Hahn