In the opening paragraph of a The U.S. Trans-Mississippi Issue of 1898 by Randy Neil and Jack Rosenthal, the authors refer to "The Legendary Stamps of the United States" as being an exclusive club populated by only a handful of the truly great stamps our country has issued since 1847. It was also pointed out that no one has ever truly established what this "club" is and what stamps are actually in it.
In the mid-1930s, Stamps Magazine ran a national poll to determine which U.S. stamps had become the most popular and were considered to be the finest we've ever issued. It was from this poll that one of our first "Legends" was born...for from that point on, the most popular stamp in that survey---and the one deemed the most beautiful, as well---became what collectors have always considered the most distinctive stamp America ever produced. That, of course, is Scott No. 292, the $1.00 "Western Cattle In Storm" stamp of the Trans-Mississippi series of 1898.
It leads off this article because, of all U.S. stamps, whenever legends are discussed, it is the one most widely regarded, as it was 60 years ago, as the most strikingly impressive stamp issued by the U.S. in the 19th century. Does it continue to hold this distinction in comparison with all stamps issued in the past 150 years? What do you think?
|The $1.00 Trans-Mississippi commemorative. The vignette, taken from a painting by Scotsman John MacWhirter, may be quite inaccurate...for the cattle depicted represent a scene not in America's West, but in the northern reaches of Scotland. And are they Angus cattle, as many have theorized? No one knows for sure. And if they are Angus cattle, was this breed even in existence in America at the time the stamp was issued?|
To me, when it comes to determining our true "Legends", it comes down to which stamps would most U.S. collectors really like to have in their collections...if they could throw caution to the wind and bust their wallets to buy them?
America's First Stamps...
High on anyone's list of legends have to be the two stamps issued by America over 150 years ago---Nos. 1 and 2, the five and ten-cent definitives of 1847. There are few collectors who would not want fine copies of these two stamps in their collection. Even today, they are striking in their appearance. They are among the most widely recognized of all United States stamps and, though they are expensive, they are still not out of the reach of most collectors...thankfully.
|Oddly enough, the 5-cent 1847 has never been plated. Not enough large multiples of this stamp are known in order to accomplish this task. It is fitting that our very first stamp depicts our first Postmaster General.||The 10-cent 1847 was plated in the 1920s by Elliott Perry. The issue started a long tradition of having Washington depicted on a commonly-used definitive stamp. Its use of Roman numerals for the value is unique.|
Famous "Z" Grill...
In an article in the 1995 American Philatelic Congress Book, Ken Lawrence made a fairly good case for the stamp illustrated here as not being Scott No. 85A, the "Z" Grill on the one-cent issue of 1861. You should read that article and form your own opinion. Nevertheless, in view of the fact that this stamp, which in effect did not surface as a great rarity until research unearthed it in the second decade of this century, carries the highest price tag of any U.S. single stamp ever issued, it must rank near the top of the Legends list. One of the reasons for Lawrence's skepticism is the possibility that the cancel on this stamp is not contemporary to this particular issue.
|Scott No. 85A, the "Z" Grill on the one-cent issue of 1861, has only one copy currently in circulation. The other is supposed to be part of the Miller Collection at the NY Public Library.|
The Black Jack...
When one compares this unusual stamp with virtually all other United States definitives, it comes away as a major standout. Instead of an understated and stately sort of vignette, the depiction of Andrew Jackson stands out like a sore thumb. It was actually intended to be this way. The stamp, issued in the midst of the Civil War for the new two-cent drop letter rate, showed a picture of a southern U.S. president who was an arch opponent to secession and the breaking up of the Union. The intention was to send a clear message to our brethren in the Confederate States. It is a highly collectable stamp...one that is not only stark in its depiction, but beautiful in its engraving and printing quality.
|The Black Jack, Scott No. 73, is a stamp which has been the subject of some of the greatest specialized single-stamp collections ever formed. It is full of intriguing varieties and unusual usages.|
The Legends of United States Stamps have one other common quality among them. They have stood the test of time and are just as desirable to collectors today as they were at any time in our past. And in most cases, because of their popularity and distinction, their values have risen steadily over the decades.