The US Stamps first issue, early in July of 1847, is an iconic duo, boldly engraved with portraits of two American founding fathers – Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.
For many US collectors, this pair is a cornerstone of the hobby and no stamp collection should be without them. After all, the current day US Postal Service really started here with the first general postage stamps issued in the United States.
Though much of the story is lost to history, the New York City Bank Note engraving firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch and Edson was awarded the US government contract to design and produce this first set of two stamps.
Interestingly, there was some public consternation that George Washington was being relegated to the ‘second’ stamp while Franklin had the honor of the US stamps first issue. The decision seemed to work and it became common practice to reserve the highest price denominated stamp in a series for the most important person or scene.
There were additional charges for additional weight, overseas shipping and other non-standard options which can make researching a postal history cover quite an endeavor for any non-standard shipping.
This set was printed on a bluish woven paper that is fairly thin. Some of the printed stamps have a stitch watermark but most have no watermark. These are imperforated meaning that the stamps, issued in sheets of 100 with 10 rows by 10 columns, had no perforations so the sheets had to be cut or torn apart.
With small margins between stamps this led to many stamps having been cut into the design and so relatively few remain today with four clear margins of white border around the stamp designs.
Stamps without faults that have 4 wide margins are highly sought after by collectors and generally receive significant premiums to the prices of lower quality stamps.
Very few of these US stamps first issue have survived mint with original gum. If you ever come across either of these Mint (unused, no cancellation) with original gum it’s possible you’ve found a real prize.
A certified 10 cent Washington Scott #2 that is Mint with original gum is likely in the $10,000 and up price range unless it is in terrible condition.
Even used examples are valuable and you can find a nice looking, faulty example of the 5 cent Franklin in the low hundreds of dollars depending on the stamp. The Washington is a bit more pricey in the $500 range.
For faultless examples with large and complete margins the prices rise pretty quickly.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that with these initial stamps also came the first forgeries, like the one pictured here. Most of these are pretty easy to identify under close examination just from design differences, such as in the example of a US Stamps first issue Scott #2 forgery pictured here.
In addition to forgeries, this set of two stamps was reissued in 1874 with slight design differences, now identified as Scott #3 and Scott #4, to be aware of. The good news is that most of the forgeries and 1874 reissues are worth close to or more than used examples of the originals.
An incredibly beautiful engraved set, this is also one of the most researched and popular of all with many a book written on just about every aspect you can imagine.