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 collaborated with Alfred Diamond, called the Waterbury Cancellations 1865 – 1890, published by The Collectors Club of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 1979.
It should be noted that each of the 1869 stamps were reissued in 1875 in much smaller quantities, and the paper is a bit different than the regular issue. The color and engraving is more vivid than on the original issue. Again, few quantities exist as mint and used stamps, and even fewer on covers, with just usually two or three existing for most of the denominations. Most of the reissue covers would be found with the 1¢ 1875 reissue (Scott No. 123) and the 1880 reissue of the 1¢ (Scott No. 133).
No discussion of the 1869 Pictorial Issue would be complete without reference to the postal history and the usage of this now quite popular issue. During the brief 11 months when the stamps were available in post offices, significant changes in the postal arrangements of the United States took place. Postal treaties with other countries became more streamlined as new solutions for rapid mail transmissions were developed. Moreover, alternative mail routes were necessitated by the disruption of the Franco-Prussian War in July of 1870. Other significant events occurred during this time and period with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.
In this time period, the mails, which were destined to foreign countries, could be rated and evaluated based on the various mail services that actually handled the letter. Such an analysis allows for the common threads to be followed in the diverse rates and routes that were utilized during the 1869-1870 time period. Those mail services that handled the mail during this time period, and in which 1869 covers exist, include the following: French mails, the British North American mails, overland rates to Canada and Mexico, American mails to such destinations as China, Japan and Hawaii. British mails provided for carriage by British vessels to Great Britain and to such other destinations as Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, Natal and St. Helena. The Closed Mails were used where special closed mail arrangements were made by special treaties to carry the mail to Belgium, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland. The German mails allowed for the German mail service to carry letters both to Germany and beyond Germany to such destinations as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Rome, Turkey, Syria and Greece.
Finally, with the 1869 Issue, one finds an extraordinary group of letters originating from United States offices and consulates in overseas places such as China and Japan, and from such places as the Danish West Indies as well as from British Columbia and Hawaii. These latter usage’s are often coupled with a mixed franking usage, that is stamps of the 1869 Issue combined with other stamp-issuing countries such as British Columbia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and even the kingdom of Hawaii, on letters from Hawaii to the United States.
What follows is a brief description of each of the individual denominations, in order, discussing how they were used and for what purpose, both domestic and foreign.
Siegel Encyclopedia (1869 Pictorals)
The 15-Cent Invert of 1869, by Gary Griffith